by Ben Shane

My father heaves a sycamore log
onto the chopping stump.
He sets his stance wide and hefts the maul.
His bare fists grip the cold helve
and he swings an easy arc overhead and through
the wood with a great crack like a baseball bat
connecting clean. The halves fall into the snow
and the yard is silent. After three more logs
quartered my father’s breath matches the rasp
of the snow beneath his boots. I ask to help.
He gently selects a modest log of hedge
and balances it on the stump.
The face of the hedge is scarred
from my past attempts. He does not hand me
the maul. Again and again my father swings the maul
and the maul thuds and flexes back like a stiff
leaf spring. He leans the maul against the stump
and seeks some integral fault among our shallow nicks.
It’s there—just more than a shadow in the thick bark,
but there. He steps back, breathes deep
through his nose, fixes his eye,
bounces the maul in his grip, swings it high,
pulls his top hand down the helve for momentum
and the rusted head of the maul sinks into the hedge,
splinters wide its yellow viscera bursting
with an odor of warm earth and roughened skin.
My father stacks wood in my arms to carry indoors.
In the smooth oak flames the halved hedge screams
like breaking bones.