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Poetry and Medicine
March 26, 2003

Four perfect quarters

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2003;289(12):1476. doi:10.1001/jama.289.12.1476

when I lost the green ash twelve
summers ago you came into the yard
with a saw and a deal—
for half the haul you'd
cut it all into ready rounds
and teach me to maul split, to
aim for the inviting cleft
let tool and gravity do the work
breathe, bend knees, relish
the way the four quarters fall apart, the look
and smell of startled heartwood
the flat dull ring of a thrown log on its
partners, like tumbling children's blocks
a siren song that always called you back
to my yard or kept you in yours
working other hauls from other deals
I don't remember when I stopped
hearing your hammer or smelling
your November smoke or knew about the
six heme grams, ten sigmoid inches
forty-seven pounds you lost, and
thousands of portal triads sliced
microtome thin, or how long since the
stiff-suited day I walked yard to yard past
your pile—a blue tarp capped peak above
border tangle of honeysuckle and wild rose
—to sit inside a circle of cakes with dew
beads slipping off polished shoes and tell
stories stacked tall enough to last many winters
but wish you could have seen me with
my own saw after the May storm took
the black walnut by the fence, or been lured
today by the claves clack under a July cicada
sun to watch me work the few rounds I hid
from millers and carvers, or sweat with
me over that stuck-wedge stubborn
or been home to see the four perfect
quarters I laid next to your dwindle of
parched gray oak, to admire the way the cut
bared the grain, pointing like a candle flame, like
church steeple, the light brown almost
yellow, the dark almost violet; you would have
warned me to keep on my gloves, that the wet
bark would stain my hands

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