Study the Axe Handle


[Photo: Sam Hamill, photograph by Ian Boyden. My thanks to Michael Simms, Editor of Vox Populi, who first published this poem on April 18, 2018.]


Study The Axe Handle

                    for Sam Hamill

To study the axe handle 

is to study the forest,

how trees stand,

and how trees fall,

and how to cause their falling,

and what it sounds like

when one falls into one’s own shadow

by another’s hand.

To study the axe handle 

is to study Lu Ji,

third century poet and author of the Wen Fu,

who was wrongfully executed for high treason,

and who once wrote:

       Things move into the shadows and vanish.

       Memory returns in an echo.

Moment by moment.

Axe cut by axe cut.

Telling truth by truth

as the foundation of one’s art,

even if it is also the foundation 

of one’s own wrongful execution.

The seedling just sprouting 

has already fallen as a giant tree,

one limb is already the handle

of another limb’s demise.

It has fallen at the edge of a name

of a child who has fallen,

who is moving into shadows

filled with echoes

and the memory of vanishing.

Everything can lead to everything

but it doesn’t. 

Each leads to each singularity

in all of its impermanence.

—Ian Boyden

August 8, 2016

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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