Become the Axe Handle


The iron axe head I buried with the tree's roots.

April 14, 2019. Today is the one-year anniversary of the death of Sam Hamill. Several of us gathered together with Sam’s daughter and we went to one of Sam’s beloved sites and planted a pine tree in his honor. As we dug the hole and planted the tree, we took turns reading poems. This is a poem I wrote for the occasion.

Become the Axe Handle

Digging the earth to plant a tree
for a teacher who had died,
my shovel hit something hard,
something other than stone.
Carefully scraping the soil away,
I lifted an iron axe head
into the autumn light.
I felt its weight, ran my fingers
over the blade dulled by rust,
looked through the hole
where the handle had rotted.

A world brimmed there.
My world and that of another.
The world of mountain,
of forge and hammers,
of files and calloused hands,
of being and time.
When we pick up an axe,
we open a world of cleaving,
and how we become in that world
is who we are then and forever

I continued to dig the earth,
thinking about who buried that axe
in the ground and why.
What memory was buried there?
When the wooden handle decayed
what was released?

I uncoiled the roots of the young tree,
kneeling at this edge of its life.
I thought about my teacher
who implored us to wield words
to counter war within our hearts.
I slipped the axe head
over one of the long roots
that the tree might grow
to become a handle
holding this blade in the earth,
until it became a pocket of ochre,
and the tree was no longer
its handle.

—Ian Boyden

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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