Mama Carving

by Terry Ofner
The Waters
First Place, January 2015
Judged by Ned Balbo


Summers she sat out under the willow
carving buddha from a stump—
a wild cherry uprooted in a storm.
She hung a 50-foot extension,
hauled out a record player on days
she wanted to listen while she worked.
Field guide to western bird songs, a 4-LP set.
The Scarlet Tanager: chip-burr! chip-burr!

She oiled the wood when the weather turned cold,
let it rest all winter in the utility room. In spring
the old seer came out of hiding, a surprised smile
blinking in the light. When she started I was nine or ten,
would sit on a branch overhead reading comics
like a passing thought she might ponder then let go.
I had left for college when she wrapped up the chisels
and declared defeat: I’m done. All those seasons.

The trees in the neighborhood grew, thickened.
The abandoned house next door fell in.
They carted it off in a dump truck and let
the yard go to nettles, boxelder, and elm
on its way to some kind of climax. The buddha
wizened under chisel and knife, darkened
as cherry will in the sun. There at the end
she would tip her head and smile:
a passing warbler in a tree somewhere,
out of normal hearing, out of sight.


Haunted by time and love, "Mama Carving" summons a lifetime of quiet watchfulness in images well selected and admirably concise. Birdsong, recorded or real, is the soundtrack of a lifetime, as is the poet's quietly eloquent voice in witness to a changing landscape. A fine elegy. --Ned Balbo

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