If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Robert Eastwood: Diminuendo

When Rhodes arrived that Saturday I watched from inside our store. I remember, I stood beside five or six axes leaning against the wall, tall as my chestbone then––new double-bladers with blood-red heads. I’d thumbed oil off their burnished blades, imagined the deep-throated gout in bark they’d make. I rubbed a handle along the sallow taper to its lip, and envisioned the wielding, the wing of a swing, the nudge an ax must make against the palm’s heel, and how a blow must tingle up the arms. Before he came, I thought I knew how axed oaks must sound. How they must fall.
To clear red oak for firewood, hew and split it into five cords for a hundred dollar tab and close his debt to my father, that was Rhodes’ job––better than credit to an ex-con.
So Rhodes arrived early with a plosive beat, the black Chevy pounding its measure against the hills, muffler shot and the old six spinning five cylinders, fortissimo, climbing the highway’s rise where he’d cut the engine, let it free-wheel to staccato-clack its broken bearings into our graveled drive.
Three tow-headed children peered out in back, palms against the filmy windows, wan as if just let out to light. The oldest, a girl my age, looked at me standing on the porch and smiled. I raised and waved my hand, but did not go near. I saw her mouth open, say something. A man with them––of the clan who lived south, off the road, younger than Rhodes––dragged out, sulked behind Rhodes––an understudy, or a son maybe. I guessed the kids were his. He wore the same kind of ear-flapped cap, even dragged one foot as he walked, like Rhodes.
Under way at once, they left the children shut in the car, as if all had been arranged before they arrived. Maybe the car windows wouldn’t lower, for they began to fog. The girl continued to stare at me without blinking, as if I were the strangest person she’d ever seen. Maybe it was curiosity. It made me avoid her eyes, but every time I stole a look, she was peering back, daring me it seemed, in a game I didn’t like. Her pale face unsettled me, as if she had awful news. The smaller children, a boy and girl, occupied themselves in the dark interior of the car.
From the trunk Rhodes brought out two double-bladers, a sledge, several well-pummeled wedges. He ran his thumb over the edges. The ax-heads had a well-used, silver gleam. He smiled with satisfaction and glanced at me. He took a plug of tobacco from his pocket and carved a chunk with the ax, then fingered it back into his cheek, and winked. His eyes were deep, the axes sharp.
No need for preliminaries, no talk, the men strode to their places, axes on their shoulders, wedges weighting their frayed pockets.
Our oaks stood close behind the store. The trees reached tall from a mantle of dense scrub. This made ax swinging difficult. Rhodes and the young man began to cull, slice slender trunks in metronomic, low-arced chops. They tugged the scrub to rumpled piles scattered away from the trees, then began the serious tree-toppling. The two men worked opposing ends of the stand. Trees fell herringboned to one another, in a kind of duet. Neither spoke as he labored, yet each made a nasal hum that laid a lower, barely audible line. Once Rhodes gave a whistle, motioned the other man away from the vector of his oak’s fall.
The impromptu led them on––what they chose next seemed almost second sense. Trees fell in countermelody. They danced and pulled and swung to a swish and tumbled counterpoint. I still recall the riffs of cracked conclusion, the splintered finality, as oaks angled over.
It’s said somewhere, music began with the heart, the sound-blow in our chests. The beat on wood first echoed that––drew music from the body. Blood-heat resounds in the beat and its evocation rides on rhythm. We wake to it from our body-caverns, hear it in wind’s tethered-clatter, the lap of shore-water, and when beating quiets, we almost feel the muting is the soft step of death.
It seemed each man held his own metrical dream, for they worked on, caught by the motion and fall. Nothing carried under those oaks but axes’ chucking, chuck-a-puck chucking, the line taken by axes and trunks cracking to yaw then thump the air––frying with a spit-timpani of leaves, until...a clear timbrel hung an instant in the air. Then followed...a thud––a stubbed  chuck––no longer the snap-bite at wood.
Splintered, sap-spattered Rhodes stood wide-eyed, fingered a headless handle––while fifty feet across the clearing I saw the young man, arms thrust out, his amazed face screwed round and about as he staggered a spiraled diminish, arching to see his back, to touch if he could the shard of steel. Though we gathered around him––I think now how strange––no one moved to hold him as he clawed for his back. No one touched that blade, red upon red, just watched the futile effort, the flushed yawing of his face. The wail from the car, an eerie coda.

Robert Eastwood's work has appeared in numerous journals, on-line and in print, including Blue Unicorn, Carquinez Review, Ekphrasis, Talking River Review, New Zoo Poetry Review, The Oxford Magazine, The Dirty Napkin, Mobius, Raintown Review, and others.

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Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


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