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From inside the house, I hear
over by the woodshed

the steady sound of a maul
as it thwunks down
and splits

a chunk of oak, again and again
a muffled

heartbeat sound—

and I get it, how judging one another

the analytical split
it makes

how irrevocable the cleaving

and even if the split makes

there’s also fire to come, and smoke
a toxic residue

in the air around each word I speak out
or imply in judgment

A suicide may leap free of another’s
and fall into

the mystery of the human heart

But what if it’s common sense
what if it’s clear

what if even a child, or especially a child

would say

How to do it, how hold
in balance

what misses the mark
and what hits it

How know without censure

how see the open wound
and the salt already in it

and refuse
to add a pinch more

And there’s this enigma—
the heart

seems to need to be split
by error
even shattered

I’m only human
one may say, and I might say that, too

We might stand in a human chorus
and mutter it, over and over

But how put a stop to what harms
how make whole

how raise the maul and bring it down
and make

a break so clean one can

(reaching beyond what can or can’t
be known)

touch what is.



Margaret Gibson is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently Not Hearing the Wood Thrush (LSU). She is currently poet laureate of Connecticut.


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