So, this poem appeared in the journal Relief, which bills itself as "A Quarterly Christian Expression." It's not explicitly Christian, but then a fair bit of what they publish isn't so either.
The theme of the issue was supposed to be love and war. Well, I guess that's about right. I always remember fencing as being something of a battle, and I hope this conveyed that.
The other thing that was interesting to me. Neither my wife nor the other couple of friends who read this before I submitted it knew what a maul was. I guess that's a point for the fact that my experiences don't generalize nearly as much as I might think they do. (For the record, a maul is kind of like a sledgehammer. But 'sledgehammer' would have seriously messed with the meter. And evoke Peter Gabriel).
The ending rhyme kind of snuck up on me, but I really felt it was inevitable.
In any case, here it is:
And he the maul
We’d start it once the frost was gone
He’d cut the posts and sharpen them
I’d peel the bark- slough it off
In white strips dripping sap
(My hands too cold to feel their pull).
And then I’d paint them creosote
While he changed gas and filed the saw
Half as big as me.
We’d drive as far as we could go
And then we’d hike the rest-
He with his six posts, I with four,
I with the bar and he the maul.
It was still damp and gray;
The woods were dark.
Above, the sun, and with it flies
Black clouds that pulsed and
Hummed our blood.
We’d never speak-they’d fill
Eyes, mouth, and nose;
They’d drown in sweat
Then coat the skin.
I’d think to stop, or swat, or spit
I don’t know what he thought
The maul was sharper than their song
He’d have a blackened crown of grime
That pressed into his eyes
The nearest thing I’d see to tears-
My father weeping flies.