The Logger’s Lament

Yesterday’s Hero

“I was 12 years old when I got my first axe. Fifteen when I got my first chain saw. I was young, and strong, and proud. My father took me into the woods with him and showed me how we could tumble those giant trees, lash them to ropes and load them into trucks driven by men who, like us, were pioneers in the remaining wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.”

“Axes would swing and chips would fly and chain saws would buzz loud and long under the tall canopy of leaves a hundred and fifty feet overhead. The noise was interrupted now and then by the shout of “TIMBER”, the cracking of the trunk at the base of the giant, the whistling of the fall, and the massive thump as it hit the ground, the reward of long hours of hard work. This was followed by a hollow silence throughout the forest before the resumption of intense activity.”

“We were men then. Real men! I was strong as an ox. My skin was tight and red as all outdoors and no one asked me my age when I ordered a beer. I was part of the crew, a woodsman, a lumberjack right out of the movies of the 50s respected, admired, a hero of sorts. Then someone went into the forest and counted the remaining trees and everything changed. What was good became bad. The hero became a villain and everything turned upside down. I never grew to understand it, and if I did, I couldn’t deal with it. My life had leaned too far in one direction to be felled in another.”

“I am much older now and I drive a logging truck. I no longer stick my head out of the cab and smile proudly at my cargo. I try to protect myself behind rolled up windows from the curses of people who curse under their breath as they see me drive by with, they say, a litter of dead trees on the back.”

“What I was made to be proud of, I am now made to be ashamed of. And the medal I won for bravery in action during the war remains in its box at the bottom of the drawer. It is no longer the measure of my worth as a man and I feel as though my life is for naught. I have been used.”

“And now, toward the end of it, no one is there to acknowledge the houses that have been built with the lumber from those trees I felled when I was young, strong, and a hero.”

 

THE LOGGER

Snap! It breaks.
The ice melts.
Five golden-haired ladies
dancing in a liquid cloud
of bourbon on ice
repeated many times
in a glass in a bar
where loggers jostle each other
with chain saws
whose teeth are filled
with the flesh of trees
now lying lifeless and still
in the mill yard.
Toothpicks on the counter
of the all-night diner
where the waitress with the big boobs
leans over and pours you
another cup of coffee
hinting that she gets off at midnight
when the streets are empty
and there’s room for dancing.
But you can’t make it tonight
and she looks disappointed
and her hair curls deeper
into her head
as you zip up your pants
bring your belly over your belt
lift the chain saw off the counter
and go home.

–Jay Frankston