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Poetry and Medicine
November 15, 2000

The Blocks Grandfather Carved

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2000;284(19):2424. doi:10.1001/jama.284.19.2424

Hawk or a grizzly's head, Grandfather's oak
curled up and toppled. Every scrape, every plane
of the wood clamped tightly in the vise
might be his last. And so old knuckles
the size of walnuts made a fist that trembled,
pain I never understood until lately,
when I bend to pick a grandchild up.
One day I watched him hold the blade
and wait until the tremor stopped,
then strop the sharp steel deep enough in oak
to cut a jaw. I saw a bear's jaw drop,
and fangs grew out of wood, the muzzle dished,
a grizzly. I saw the ears perk up to listen.
It sits there on the mantel now, without eyes,
the grain along the lips rough-cut, unfinished.
I tried to ease Grandfather down,
a sack of bones already gone
before I could run to find my father
sipping coffee on the porch with Meemaw
leaning forward in her rocker when I called.