Winner First Prize, Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Award 2015
Two Girls, Woodpile by Molly Scott
Tall farmer daughters, sturdy, in tight jeans and denim jackets that they’ll shed
as bending, picking up and stacking, bending down again, they build the pile.
I’m with them, keeping up, but pausing to take breaks–pacing myself
for the sixty years between us. The girls forge on: bend, lift, stack, turn and bend again.
They put their “gram’s wood “ in the day before; their grandma, my age probably,
did not join stacking up the wood. Instead, I fantasize she made them cookies,
cakes, or maybe pies–a Norman Rockwell grandma–with white hair pulled back in bun,
stout, flour-dusted apron, all- forgiving smile. I don’t bake cookies, cakes or pies but I
do work and I can give them money, these braw girls, although it’s little that they ask,
and so I give them more. “It’s towards a car” I grin, writing the check. The taller sister
takes it although she is still too young to drive. She’s younger but the leader, goes to the
Tech school, raises bulls. She wants to farm and work with oxen in the woods just like her dad
and uncle and their father too. Her sister’s older by a bit, but smaller and holds back.
She’s fond of chemistry and wants to go to college, be a teacher like their mom.
It’s all so wholesome I am in awe of it– these lives in pattern like those quilts up on their
grandma’s bed. And we just keep on working: bend and lift and stack and build the pile.
My sister, at her woodshed down in the valley town, bemoans her lack of help.
It’s fertile river farmland there once tended by large family clans of refugees
from distant wars whose long syllabic names are fading on the roadsides stands.
“The kids don’t want to work,” my sister says, “What’s wrong with them?”
They’re in the malls paved over farmland that their fathers used to plant, kids with bright screen
devices blooming in their hands. The hill towns seem a world away from this, although
they’re not. Yet see these sturdy girls who josh and tease each other as they work. It pleases me
that they are eased enough to chatter on as though I were not there. They started quiet,
testing the tenor of the job and me, but good work loosens tongues and as I work along,
doing my share, their banter brightens. What he said to a friend and how she called up after,
what she said he said or did and what they wore. I listen mostly to the flow, the girl wind blowing,
but know, as these girls do not, how he will break her heart, how she’ll recover but
will not forget him– that one–as I remember Johnny W. back when I was just fifteen:
the scent of beer upon his breath, the mystery place where his tanned neck encountered
that blue oxford shirt, the taste of this first lust upon my body’s mind,
and I am pregnant with it now forever– as some man, or woman maybe, will inhabit
these strong girls and they’ll remember, each of them, just how it was–
the salt of someone else’s skin, the smell of it, the steamy radiance of touch–
as they will not remember, sixty years from now, a wood-pile day with that old woman
who kept up with them, worked hard, bent, lifted, stacked and helped to build the pile,
and watched and saw, and wrote it down.