Jennifer K. Sweeney

On Not Being an Axeman

Swing the apple blade,
maul the ash. A cutting
of late honeysuckle
in a penny vase. I have romanced
hawks and fieldstone
and the notion that in another life
I would have made a fine axeman,
splitting knots in the flannel dusk
to make clean a work of private
knowledge. Is a life more than
a landscape of choices so minor
they are shrugs of mind
that impose a narrative
grander at a distance?
To breathe sharply this dark
air, ignore the animal
dash and rustle and fix steady
on the turning of, returning to
the task of my whatever
hour. Like the tree
etched with secrecy,
striations wound in a brindly mass,
grooveworks and spirals
grow crooked the unsplittable.
How much I fail at knowing
trees and my neverlasting self
is what binds us.
It might have been such a shrug
not becoming axeman,
or man, fly, tree. Can I know then
it is not a violence
this splitting of the wood,
(can I feel) the arc
cutting no-sound into sound
stump-stopped and waving through
my unstruck body?

Janice Pockett

Her name like a warning at the edge of the woods
and also green metallic bicycle empty envelope
Whoever made her disappear did it entirely.
Had the kennel released its hounds
the dogs would have found nothing
before the decades of nothing.
How far back to trace a vanishing—
butterfly that crossed her path days before just so,
the one her hands finally caught
and the impulse that made her hide
it under that rock. Afternoons later
how she wanted to retrieve it or
the time it took to scavenge the drawers
for an envelope to carry it home and so
and so. No. That isn’t right.
No life should lean on such fine margins.
Janice Pockett, we 70s children sleeved your name
in our bodies like an orange flash in the wind.
Your name became prayer.
Your mother is still searching the woods
for the rock, the room for the envelope,
the quick bright wings for your voice.
When we rode off on banana seats toward
our granted days, we wanted to bring you home.
When we said your name, we whispered.

Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of three poetry collections: Salt Memory, How to Live on Bread and Music, which received the James Laughlin Award, the Perugia Press Prize and was later nominated for the Poets’ Prize, and Little Spells, forthcoming from New Issues Press. Sweeney’s poems have appeared in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Poetry Daily, American Poetry Review, New American Writing, Pleiades, Verse Daily, and theAcademy of American Poets “Poem-a-Day”series. She teaches workshops and offers manuscript consultation in California where she lives with her husband, poet Chad Sweeney, and their sons, Liam and Forest. Visit her at Her favorite sweets include tiramisu and anything with pumpkin, all made more delicious eaten outside under a giant tree.

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