Ernest Coldwell: Carving the Wheel
Wooden farm wagons almost gone then, tractors
shaking them to pieces, but Granddaddy Coldwell,
he had me fixing for folks still needing them,
no one else doing such repair, and wood, oh
lordy, I purely took to wood – cherry and oak.
Could use something soft, pine for the grain box
or hayrack, but axles and truss rods, you’d want
hickory. White oak for spokes and felloes, or birch,
always loved that Pennsylvania birch, got me
into carving, simple things first – ladles and bowls.
When the guvment got their hands on me, wasn’t
stacking time the way most mean it, though parts
much the same, but it was good working Nuremberg,
me speaking Kraut so well, interviewing high and low,
that’s where I got these Hirsch tools, boxwood handles,
never found anything fit my hand so well, and on leave
lots of time in London, College of Heralds, learning
coats of arms, all that stuff, turned out a nice sideline,
carving those things officers wanted, emblems for a
wall, family crest usually, the illusion of nobility.
Course after what we’d seen in the death camps,
who could blame them, and they’d lean toward lions,
salient or rampant, bears and wolves, though my own
favorite was the hydra, getting those seven heads
spread over the blazon, that shield all aswarm.
Worked cedar and spruce mostly, easy to find,
sometimes basswood for fussy cuts, especially if
they’d want it painted, butternut if not, let that grain
catch the shine, though these days it’s mostly black
walnut or cherry, pleasing naught but myself.
Though you caught me where I started, haven’t you?
That preacher over Saints’ Delight, he wants to
roll out plain on the back of this old wagon, says
take your time, believe the Lord ain’t quite done
with this servant, but down to just the wheels now.
Mortise and tenon, been that way thousands of years,
Assyrians, Hittites, hubs joined to rims, could frame
your house without reliance on a single nail, this barn
all post and beam pegged together, male and female
you might say, if that’s the way your mind runs.
Still see marks of a draw knife here and there,
all by hand, straight lines, straight enough anyway,
been standing a hundred years, and you might think
trees would be that way if left alone, hot heart
of the sun pulling up, earth furnace from below,
lightning, wind, and rain, that’d be it, stretched taut
as a rope, but wood’s its own idea, curves in the grain,
twisted like any life, my job being find that story, bend
with the shape – spoon, box, wheel – like a dance, really,
where it’s been and where I see we still need to go.
About the Author: George Perreault has served as a visiting writer in New Mexico, Montana, and Utah, and he has received awards for poetry in Nevada and Washington. He was a finalist for the Backwaters Prize, and his work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and selected for nine anthologies and dozens of journals. His fourth full-length collection, Bodark County, was released in November 2016.