The first chainsaw I owned was years ago, an old yellow McCulloch that wouldn't start. Bo Bremmer give it to me that was my friend, though I've had enemies couldn't of done no worse. I took it to Ward's over to Morrisville, and no doubt they tinkered it as best they could, but it still wouldn't start. One time later I took it down to the last bolt and gasket and put it together again, hoping somehow I'd do something accidental-like that would make it go, and then I yanked on it 450 times, as I figured afterwards, and give myself a bursitis in the elbow that went five years even after Doc Arrowsmith shot it full of cortisone and near killed me when he hit a nerve dead on. Old Stan wanted that saw, wanted it bad. Figured I was a greenhorn that didn't know nothing and he could fix it. Well, I was, you could say, being only forty at the time, but a fair hand at tinkering. "Stan," I said, "you're a neighbor. I like you. I wouldn't sell that thing to nobody, except maybe Vice-President Nixon." But Stan persisted. He always did. One time we was loafing and gabbing in his front dooryard, and he spied that saw in the back of my pickup. He run quick inside, then come out and stuck a double sawbuck in my shirt pocket, and he grabbed that saw and lugged it off. Next day, when I drove past, I seen he had it snugged down tight with a tow-chain on the bed of his old Dodge Powerwagon, and he was yanking on it with both hands. Two or three days after, I asked him, "How you getting along with that McCulloch, Stan?" "Well," he says, "I tooken it down to scrap, and I buried it in three separate places yonder on the upper side of the potato piece. You can't be too careful," he says, "when you're disposing of a hex." The next saw I had was a godawful ancient Homelite that I give Dry Dryden thirty bucks for, temperamental as a ram too, but I liked it. It used to remind me of Dry and how he'd clap that saw a couple times with the flat of his double-blade axe to make it go and how he honed the chain with a worn-down file stuck in an old baseball. I worked that saw for years. I put up forty-five run them days each summer and fall to keep my stoves het through the winter. I couldn't now. It'd kill me. Of course they got these here modern Swedish saws now that can take all the worry out of it. What's the good of that? Takes all the fun out too, don't it? Why, I reckon. I mind when Gilles Boivin snagged an old sap spout buried in a chunk of maple and it tore up his mouth so bad he couldn't play "Tea for Two" on his cornet in the town band no more, and then when Toby Fox was holding a beech limb that Rob Bowen was bucking up and the saw skidded crossways and nipped off one of Toby's fingers. Ain't that more like it? Makes you know you're living. But mostly they wan't dangerous, and the only thing they broke was your back. Old Stan, he was a buller and a jammer in his time, no two ways about that, but he never sawed himself. Stan had the sugar all his life, and he wan't always too careful about his diet and the injections. He lost all the feeling in his legs from the knees down. One time he started up his Powerwagon out in the barn, and his foot slipped off the clutch, and she jumped forwards right through the wall and into the manure pit. He just set there, swearing like you could of heard it in St. Johnsbury, till his wife come out and said, "Stan, what's got into you?" "Missus," he says "ain't nothing got into me. Can't you see? It's me that's got into this here pile of shit." Not much later they took away one of his legs, and six months after that they took the other and left him setting in his old chair with a tank of oxygen to sip at whenever he felt himself sinking. I remember that chair. Stan reupholstered it with an old bearskin that must of come down from his great-great- grandfather and had grit in it left over from the Civil War and a bullet-hole as big as a yawning cat. Stan latched the pieces together with rawhide, cross fashion, but the stitches was always breaking and coming undone. About then I quit stopping by to see old Stan, and I don't feel so good about that neither. But my mother was having her strokes then. I figured one person coming apart was as much as a man can stand. Then Stan was taken away to the nursing home, and then he died. I always remember how he planted them pieces of spooked McCulloch up above the potatoes. One time I went up and dug, and I took the old sprocket, all pitted and et away, and set it on the windowsill right there next to the butter mold. But I'm damned if I know why.
Hayden Carruth's "Regarding Chainsaws," from Toward the Distant Islands: New & Selected Poems (2006) is used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
Hayden Carruth was born on August 3, 1921, in Waterbury, Connecticut, and
Date Published: 2006-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/regarding-chainsaws