075.1: Charlotte Pence:: from The Branches, the Axe, the Missing 075

In these four poetic vignettes by Charlotte Pence, wood is offered as man's origin story, as a fact of biological anthropology, as a personal anecdote, and as an analogue to a Greek myth. Wood becomes a generative metaphor that we watch create life, self-awareness, civilization, beauty, understanding, change, and loss: "Around wood, around fire, we began." Pence realizes as she analyzes the various changes surrounding wood that "w/ everything gained, there is loss," watching wood consumed as fire and trees cut in preparation for a winter storm. As Pence meditates on what was lost, one might consider the leveled forests documented by W.G. Sebald in Rings of Saturn, or the razing of the Amazon where the lands of uncontacted tribes is becoming continually encroached upon. One might think of Robert Frost's "Birches" and wonder if that memory, that experience, will continue to become more foreign to succeeding generations as we continue to use the earth as a raw resource for consumption, or consider it as mere decoration of a properly manicured lawn. And with these overwhelming thoughts, one might be tempted to, like the little girl, "[stop] moving, let the tree hide her" hoping that though the branches might fall, though both humanity and ecology might change, somehow the tree will still be there to comfort us, whatever we become. Andrew Wessels

III




Around wood, around fire, we began.
Roasting small mammals as we sat
in circles. The sizzle-spit of fat striking

flame. And outside the circle: darkness.
Stalk of hyena. Crick-shift of his step.
Then man lifting a torch—jab-jab-jabbing

that dark until the sounds flee back to the
quiet: sizzle-spits. Shifts of logs carboned
and boned-thinned. Ashed by morning.


IV




Biological anthropologists are discovering that
“around wood
we began” is not
figurative
 
Taming fire
led to
cooking which led to
more calorieswhich led to
bigger brainsto
language       speechcommunities
w/ clusters of moms, dads, Bobbies & Sallies.
 
 
 
But w/ everything gained, there is loss.  What
is the equation for this?
Simply: 1+1 is no longer one?
With taming
fire what was lost?


VI




Georgia July and the thought of ice storms occurred to her father.

Fifty-three loblolly pines surrounded their house back then. Fifty-three pines that could ice-over, splinter, crash onto the roof.

They sat on their porch next to the strawberry patch that had given up only three berries all season.

She rarely weeded. She was ten.

Her dad liked quoting Frost and his proclamations of the world’s end—…in fire, some say ice.

He kept ten full gallons of gasoline in the garage.

One chainsaw.

Those pines all fell within seven hours.

A boy biked by with his sister on the handlebars. She wore a headband with bunny ears. Silver fabric where pink should have been.

The sound of falling pines was not unrecognizable.

A sound slow to finish like stacked plates falling after an earthquake. Something impossible to stop, forcing one to stand by and watch.

Just before dark, the chainsaw quieted and the bike squeaked by. The boy wore the ears now. There was no sister.

She began her job of walking through each fallen tree top.

Such rooms within those limbs. Sometimes she did pull-ups to the next firred space. Other times, she ape-swung and jumped down.

In one nest’s weave, she found foil from a chip bag and one wobbly line of red string. Two weeks ago, she had torn her red dress at the edge of these woods.

Aren’t you one lucky kid? her father called from somewhere.

She stopped moving, let the tree hide her. And it did, towering even as it lay on its side.



XIII




What was the mind like before language?


Needs.
            [A bird.]

Images.
            [Arc of bird’s chest as it rises from a bay bush.]

Metaphor.
            [A man is the thrust of the bird’s breast as it rises from a bay bush.]

Act.
            [A spreading of the bird’s wings.
            A lifting.
            A spreading of the man’s arms.
            A stilling.
            His feet still on the ground.]




This is all impossible. The description and the act of man imagining to fly.
                                                                                 That story of Icarus
                                                                             not flying, but falling:


            A crack.
            One crack to one crack to one crack until
            a break.
                        A branch coming down.

                                    This is the story we keep telling.
                                    How it all falls.
                                    How the small world falls.