the carpenter


they say your life flashes before your eyes

It was my first memory
or probably not a memory,
perhaps merely the remembrance of my mother
telling me stories
of how I was

but I do remember
hands reaching out
finding themselves for the first time
seizing the air
holding nothing
until touching, holding, the hard edge of wood

as if lives should begin and end in a single moment
linked across the years

I hear it now
the sleek swoosh of wood against wood
the shoe of the plane gliding effortlessly
as sweat gorged muscles guide gently

I used to sit there
a tiny child
touching the dust motes
feeling the sunshine streaming through the high windows
watching the shavings
like corn-gold rain fall
dropping around me
carpeting the dry earth floor

I run my fingers through the waves
pick one up and separate the fibres
the curve
the soft edge

she said my hair was like this as a baby
soft ringlets on an infant scalp

these ringlets
were once tree trunks

his arms were like that
my father
strong like tree trunks
holding me up

but gentle he was and kind
foolish some said
slow to collect debts
but he was my father

he called me out
my father

showed me the blade of the plane
the tiny gap between iron and wood

held my hand and ran it over the smooth surface
a table he said it would be
long enough for a dozen or more

I can still feel the wood under my fingers

What is that?

is it distant or is it near?

the sound of mallet on iron

I remember that sound

he rarely used nails
iron was too precious
keep it for the tools

the sound of mallet on iron

evening time
beneath the bench again
steady hands holding the cold iron chisel
cutting out a mortice
for a roof timber he said

I watched his feet
planted firmly

through the open door I could see her
looking towards the falling sun

the blows
one by one
reverberating above my head

and a cry
was it then or is it now?

and I saw it
spinning once as it fell
so slow
like that moment when a bird touches water
the wing beats slow

falling, turning
the last red gleam of sunlight catching its tip
perhaps he was working too late
too tired
a long day
the chisel slipping, catching on a knot
then falling

I saw it strike his foot
before clattering to the floor
amongst the sawdust and shavings
a gash amongst the ringlets

I didn't see her turn
or run towards the workshop
or come through the door

all I saw was the welling wound on the sandalled foot
and then
from above
where the whitened finger tips gripped the edge of the wood
a single drop
he had cut his hands too
a single drop gather on the whitened flesh
hang for a moment
caught in time
then fall
like the sun itself
and stain the wood curl I held in my hand

I did not see her come
but she was there
while I still sat transfixed I heard her voice

then crawling from my cavern saw her
supporting him
he three times bigger than she
like a sapling supporting an oak
guide him down

then rush for water
wash the gashes on his hands
and then with care
with love
she washed his feet
her hair fell
catching the last fading light
seemed to hold him

well now you've started wash me all, he said
but I heard the wince in his voice
his eyes glinted
but I saw the grimace hover around his mouth

it is your feet that are dirty she said
and I heard the love in her voice
and saw the tear fall
at his hurt

in the lamplight
she brought food
just bread and watered wine
and fed him
breaking the bread
and fed me too

I can feel arms holding my arms

what is that?

I remember

my own arms now
not tree trunks
but hardening, growing

and his hands
guiding my hands
it should be like this

working the wood
it is not simply a matter of knowing what you want it to be
but of knowing it
each piece
the sweep of the grain
the way the years gave it life
the wind and sun
each season still flows
captured for ever in its patterned surface
still governing the lines of strength within

you learn to see the inside from the surface
to know each individually
to choose each for its own purpose
then mould it
cut it
shape it
preserving its essence
but making it more than it could be on its own

It is so hot

I can feel each sunbeam cut my arms

so thirsty

the sweat draws dust furrows on my forehead

it was harder
on my own in the workshop

we buried him
my mother and I
the family were there too of course
but I only remember her face
and pain

the damp shine on her eyes as she looked at me
as she held me

my hands touched the wood
then pushed hard on the plane
as he had done before me
cut, joined, lifted, wedged
blow of mallet, slice of saw

the noon sun broken by the shelter above me
but still scorched and blinded
reflected light from the whitened buildings all around

if I keep working perhaps I can forget

her hand on my arm
time to rest

Who is that around my feet?

is it the children again?

they came to me
nephews and cousins

sat beneath the bench
as I had done with him

I told them stories as I worked
learnt the power of my words

and they grew
and I grew
till my hands guided their hands
till some of them were old enough to hold the plane
till their arms thickened
till they could carry on the work
without me


are you there?

it is time?

I know it is hard

my father left you too

I'll be wandering the countryside

I will see you

from time to time

it hurts

it hurts me too

but it is time

time for me to be
to feel myself in the wood stack
to seize my purpose

I won't leave you alone forever

but it is time

Easter 2003

if you like this, you may also like to read my Good Friday journal entry


Alan Dix © 2003