Apr/May 2008 Poetry Special Feature

Harlow's Wooden Man

by Jennifer Finstrom

Harlow's Wooden Man

The way my aunts told the story, he was cut
from a living tree. Up-ended. Given a hat
and beard. What looked like a walking stick or ax.

So it is not difficult to understand
why neighborhood children would run past
the yard where he stood, long-armed and

menacing, to reach the safety of their rooms.
Three times the height of adults they knew,
they feared to see his head in their windows,

to hear the dry rasp and thump as he fumbled
at the screen. To take something living
and make it other alters its story, sends

it branching down strange roads that twist
back upon themselves. Once the tree
had been as other trees. It might have

been an oak or maple. It knew sun and snow,
feathers and nests, the long probe of roots
into earth's secret places. We enter the world

of a fairy tale when a tree is changed to a man
or a man to a tree. Knowing this, we must feel
his loneliness. The wooden man's death

leaves no widow, no one to mourn his slow
decay. His last incarnation is a god to
woodpeckers and other seekers of insect eggs

and larvae. Perhaps his ending houses
a collection of small souls, turns death
again to life. The wooden man stands always

between two worlds: one leg remembering
forest, the other lost and bloodless, dry roots
hanging empty in the world of the human.


Previous Piece Next Piece