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A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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September 2007, vol 3 no 3

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Jeffrey Woodward

 

Shorty

That summer at the sawmill at the end of a gravel county road dusty cottonwoods and cicadas parallel rows of corn inscribing the shortest distance between any two given points acre upon acre so irredeemably flat as to tempt neither carpenter's nor mason's level the equidistant straight lines a formal study in perspective their deep affinity drawing them into an intimacy that gradually but definitively invoked a proof for that ancient theorem all is one out there where the hazy horizon loomed that summer of dodging arrow-like splinters of fresh-cut boards spit out from trim table-saws the only nearby hamlet offering daily the unsolicited dubiously literate admonition of its name MAYBEE that summer of dread that a three-foot wide circular blade the shark-like teeth biting deep into a two-ton log not letting go wobbling side-to-side might shatter and fly to shear instead a man in half that summer of a cicada before a cicada after the whining pitch of a saw-blade adopted by the mill crew the middle-aged sullen and balding owner daily impatient daily worried about business maybe his elderly and stout father in overalls a permanently quizzical smile etched on his pasty but red Brueghel-like countenance the whiskey-before-work exhalation of the hi-lo driver's explicitly bawdy tales about Mrs. So-and-so's ever-so-easy and eager compliance the night before the morning after whenever he dropped by that summer when I met Shorty in his early sixties unshaven illiterate stoop-shouldered five foot five maybe six maybe 120 pounds in his waders his suspenders over disheveled plaid somehow reminiscent of my maternal grandfather his animated gestures saying more than his barely audible his indecipherably alien mumbling under the mounting din of a cicada chorus that summer Shorty for some decades resident by the sawmill owner's leave in the property's back 10 x 12 foot cinder-block tool shed that summer of sweat and sawdust making a hair-shirt of one's T in the sweltering day after day ninety-in-the-shade weather Shorty maybe limping over a bucket of ice-water for the crew maybe Shorty leaning somewhere along the long shady side of the sawmill Shorty coughing up maybe a little more of the ever present dust of the road and of the fields that summer until sundown or nearly so with overtime Shorty seated on his wooden stool before the shed maybe bent to his task of honing of honing an occasional glint from the blade's edge

single-mindedly
rubbing a whetstone away—
cicadas at dusk