A winter poem

Motion

There was a fascinating programme on Radio 4 today in which Andrew Motion chats as he sits for a portrait, and we also gain an insight into the process of the artist Fiona Graham-Mackay.

I met Motion briefly once. He was charming, and the essence of a certain self-deprecating and unfailingly attentive Englishness. In this radio programme he talks of (and reads from) a poem about splitting wood with his father. I enjoyed the poem, and thought I’d take the opportunity to share my own ‘log cutting with Dad’ poem, from my collection ‘The Sun Bathers.’

The Bow Saw

I’d go with Dad to the local woods,
collect fallen branches, the large ones
at a slant from his shoulder to mine,
our hands limed or browned by bark.

Across an up-turned tea-chest and held
by hand and boot, he’d saw through,
the pitch of blade-song dropping
as he reached the far side.

Older, I learnt the languages of wood;
dense oak coughing fine dust, jamming
the blade in the cut, asking more
from an aching arm, a racing heart and lungs;

soft hawthorn, torn by long strokes,  its give
urging me on; but my favourite was pine
for its scent, first when cut, again
when burnt, the spittle-hiss and crack

as perfume stole the room.
It’s years since the gas fire was installed,
but on the garage wall hangs the bow saw,
handle faded, blade scabbed with rust

and blunt from use. I take it down
and I’m back in the woods, winter dusk falling,
our breath streaming out as we trudge to the car,
a branch span between us.

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