Poem: ‘Following Pine’

Tony Harrison

When a plumber glues some lengths of PVC
that pipe our cold spring water from its source,
or a carpenter fits porch-posts, and they see,
from below or from above, the heartwood floors
made from virgin lumber, such men say,
as if they’d taught each other the same line:
Boards like them boards don’t exist today!
then maybe add: Now everything’s new pine.

Though the house is in a scant surviving wood
that has black walnut, hackberry, pecan
and moss-festooned live-oaks that have withstood
centuries more of bad news than a man,
sometimes we can drive an hour or more
and see nothing but dense pine trees on both sides
and no glimpse of the timber for such floors
from virgin forest laid for virgin brides.

The feller/buncher and delimber groans,
grappling the grovelling pines, and dozing flat
a whole stand to a mess of stumps and stones
like some Goliath gorged on them, then shat
what was no use to him back on the land.
The sun and moon are sharing the same sky
as we drive by this totally depleted stand
marked down for GP planks and layer-peeled ply.

We’d set off early but shrill loggers’ saws
were already shrieking in the stands of pines.
Fresh-felled, lopped slash pine tree trunks in their scores

were being bull-dozed into ordered lines
waiting for the trucks in long convoy.
The trimmed off branches were already burning.
The quiet early road we’d wanted to enjoy
we did, but met the timber trucks returning.

Our early start was so that we could get
the trees we’d gone to buy into the ground,
watered and well-mulched, before sunset
and not be digging in the dark with snakes around.
So with fig trees, vines, and apples in the back,
wilting and losing some ‘Tree Garden’ sheen,
we see on the road ahead a sky half black
and half as brilliantly blue as it had been.

The fast track was all wet, the crawler lane,
we’d driven in most of the morning, dry.
The west side was in sun, the east in rain.
The east had black, the west had bright blue sky.
Armadillo blood, on one side,’s washed away,
and, on the other, further on, sun-dried,
according as the car-crushed creature lay
on the highway’s wet or sunny side.

Killed by traffic flowing through the night,
armadillos, rats, snake, dog, racoon,
dead on both road verges, left and right,
are scavenged on and half-decayed by noon,
and browsed over with hummed hubbub by blowfly

like loud necklaces, beads gone berserk,
that, whatever the day’s weather, wet or dry,
stay a high gloss green and do their work.

And as we accelerated hard and overtook,
moving on the rain side as we did,
first one and then another timber truck,
the sudden wet road made me scared we’d skid.
My heart leaped instantly into my mouth
till we seemed safe between two loads of pine,
part of the convoy travelling due South
with east lane raining, and west side fine.

Was it the danger that made me hold my breath,
the quick injection of adrenalin,
the vision of our simultaneous death
in the crushed Toyota we were riding in,
or the giant raindrops that were pelting
onto the windshield and shot through with sun,
that made it seem the two of us were melting
and in a radiant decay becoming one?

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