The Scale


Dawn's lightning in the treetops
charged with nitrogen.
Air punky with electricity.
The crown of an old chestnut split.

Lifted into the damage,
angel of mercy in a hardhat.
Distant thunder, wind enough
to make this a warning of worse.
A thunderbolt gashed the trunk
and what isn't burned is broken.

Cable locked in.
The chainsaw bucks back,
each limb clatters down the trunk.
Chain oil slick on my face,
fingers quiver on the trigger.

My chest buckles in the sharp air.
Lodged in its own quarters,
a bad surprise that could explode someday
in the hands of a surgeon,
if I'm lucky there'll be enough to mend.

The winch driver below
old hand with chains and diesel engines.
Both of us aware the cable's
strung tight as a guitar string,
what the tree's weight is
to the fiberglass bucket of the truck's cab.

Stepping on a branch
the girth of the safety belt
keeps me belly to bark.
Each change of wind
pitches the cable to a high hum.
The driver stands by.

Always we rough house,
downplaying the soft touch on the lever
where megatons of hydraulic can kill.
Here the scale of gentleness is giant.

Down to the live sections
the trunk is winched shut.
The augur churns into heartwood,
sand to cinnamon color.

The drill forced my chest
into a pulse not mechanical
that syncs with my own from shoulder to glove
a steel thread I'm strung on.

Ruminations of the dead
for whose hands these trees are gloves
pressing the sky I'm perched in
closer to their grey dumb skulls.

When the drill breaks through,
my chest thuds.
Four holes every two feet,
threaded rod malleted,
capped with wasters, huge bolts.

Shreds of bark tugged clean,
deeper fissures chiseled smooth,
sure-handed as any bedside Michelangelo.
Dressed with tar, a hundred years of tree.

The tree sways
top heavy with my weight
and the tension of metal.
My back on a limb,
feet dangle in arboreous cloud.

On the ground, tools in alcohol.
What virus this one had,
they'll carry to the next.
This contraption of leaves
hanging on chance and hammered sutures.

The tremor is quiet.
When it comes
so much depends on the muscle
the eye and the cut.


Bruce Hunter, Two O'Clock Creek: Poems New and Selected, Oolichan Books, 2010.