What the Woodsmen Found, poem by Janice Dabney

          “An international team of experts has flown to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to try to recover two highly radioactive nuclear batteries that were found by woodsmen near a mountainous region.”

                New York Times, January 2002
      The growl of cold air before sunrise says to pull
      buttons quick to button holes. Layers of thick wool,
      our wives dress us right, fill our stomachs full
      of hot grain, cooked slow as on those early school
      mornings when we were young. My brother’s bowl
      will empty first, refill twice. The women lull
      our boy-calves to sleep, then wave us bulls
      to distant forests for two days to cut wood. Tools

      sing in our four gloved hands as we chop trees, travel
      through dense growth. We live for this. Axes never dull,
      we anticipate each day. Snowshoes etch their jewels
      on white dust, raised and catching light. Soon hours mull
      colors of dusk onto our tired faces. We huddle
      together for warmth but cannot sleep. Even a skull
      feels cold in this frigid landscape. Sergei walks out, calls
      my name, points to where the snow now puddles

      a hundred steps away. Those cans must be full
      of hot oil
      , he guesses, though we’re not sure all
      that means. We tie firm logging ropes to pull
      the shapes toward camp. We hope they’ll
      share their heated breath, keep our bodies still
      until we wake to fly inland like gulls
      we saw by water once as boys. Instead, hulls
      replace our stomachs, rocking, heads aswirl.

      We call to one another, Mother, anyone who’ll
      hear us cry. What are these objects? Were we fools
      to take them for our own? Before they came, a scowl
      of cold was all we feared. Shared prayers now fill
      our reddening hands, sour throats. And God will
      try to hear us, hold us close, until dawn scrolls
      her burning grace across this pall
      to bear us home.

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Amelia Walker