Axe Handle Shed


Ian Boyden, Shed Taken Over By Ferns, 2019, carbon print on paper


Axe Handle Shed

                      —for David Duncan

On his birthday,

the child opens the door of his name.

Inside, thousands of axe handles,

fill the simple shack.

He picks one up,

feels the handle’s weight,

how it balances in his hand.

He inhales its medicinal aroma,

at once foreign and familiar.

He wonders at the matrix,

dense and smooth as amber,

and carved by a blade so sharp

each facet of its surface

is a mirror.

The handle shimmers like a diamond.

Each facet reflects

all the other handles

filling the room of his name.

He picks up another handle

and finds it the same,

also hewn by a sharp blade,

each facet a mirror

nodding in all directions.

His heart beats

where his fingers touch

the mirroring wood.

He draws it close,

peering as one might into a prism,

gazing into a surface

polished by his own future.

His pupils multiply,

glimmering black dots and dancing,

the handles looking and looking back.

His hands—a thousand-thousand hands


He holds his breath

to hold the mirrors still—

but they can not be stilled.

Each facet, reflecting all the other handles

reflecting all the other handles

in an infinity of light,

pulses with his heart.

Stillness is as unreachable as silence.

To pick up one handle

is to pick them all up.

Time fills each equally.

And each facet also reflects

the sharp wedge

of the open door,

that infinity of sunlight

carving our world.

And within it, a tree—the infinity

of a single tree—and the outstretched

wings of the infinity of a golden bird

landing in the upper branches.

Each golden feather mirrors

all of the other feathers reflecting

the glimmering pupil of the sky,

the forest swaying in a slight

wind, a thrush singing

its pure notes,

and, in the dappled moss below,

the child stepping

from an infinity of sheds

and closing the door

of his name.

—Ian Boyden

This is an excerpt from my manuscript "A Forest of Names." The title of the poem is my translation of the name of a child who died in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. His full name is Wang Kepeng, he attended the Qushan Elementary School in Beichuan, Sichuan. He was six years old.

Constellations of Humanity

Each luminous dot on this map represents one reader of this poem. As the number of readers increases, the stars begin to cluster and form an increasingly detailed constellation. My intent is to show how brightly a poem glows across our world. I welcome your light.

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