The Ever-dulling Axe of Time


For weeks they talked it up at old Doc Daniel's store

back by the stove and the Post Office window,

all the what-ifs and thank-gods.


What if Grandpa hadn't carried his sharpest axe

up the hill to the timber that paid,

propping the jaws of coal mines,

leaving the duller blade for his boys

to hack the corn to cow cobs.

What if my daydreaming father

had moved just a horse's hair's breadth

to the left? What if the weight that hefted

the blade had not been scrawny Uncle Ernest's?


Again and again the tale slices flesh

fractions fly from my father's hand,

that thin white line of scar where the thumb

nearly flew to corn stumps. In those days

in the lonely hills of twisted stubborn roads

no miracle could have stitched it on again.


In nearly 40 years I never heard that story

or just like a foolish child who believes

the present is not the past, I wouldn't hear

or promptly forgot- it wasn't a stump, after all

like the stub of terror Uncle Bubby poked at us

to make us squeal. It was merely a miss.


It slices down again in time

from his slowly eroding mountain of memory,

the near-misses, what-ifs, and thank-gods,

that ever dulling axe.


Kathy Cantley Ackerman