My uncle made chairs, tables, balanced doors on, dug out
coffins, smoothing the white wood out
with plane and quick sandpaper until
it shone like his short-sighted glasses.
5 The knuckles of his hands were sil�vered knobs of nails hit, hurt and flat�tened out with blast of heavy hammer. He was knock-knee’d, flat�footed and his clip clop sandals slapped across the concrete
flooring of his little shop where canefield mulemen and a fleet
10 of Bedford lorry drivers2
dropped in to scratch themselves and talk.
There was no shock of wood, no beam
of light mahogany his saw teeth couldn’t handle.
When shaping squares for locks, a key hole
care tapped rat tat tat upon the handle
15 of his humpbacked chisel. Cold
world of wood caught fire as he whittled: rectangle
window frames, the intersecting x of fold�ing chairs, triangle
trellises, the donkey
20 box-cart in its squeaking square.
But he was poor and most days he was hungry
Imported cabinets with mirrors, formica table
tops, spine-curving chairs made up of tubes, with hollow
steel-like bird bones that sat on rubber ploughs,
25 thin beds, stretched not on boards, but blue high-tensioned cables,
were what the world preferred.
And yet he had a block of wood that would have baffled them.
With knife and gimlet care he worked away at this on Sundays,
explored its knotted hurts, cutting his way
30 along its yellow whorls until his hands could feel
how it had swelled and shivered, breathing air,
its weathered green burning to rings of time,
its contoured grain still tuned to roots and water.
And as he cut, he heard the creak of forests:
35 green lizard faces gulped, grey memories with moth
eyes watched him from their shadows, soft
liquid tendrils leaked among the flowers
and a black rigid thunder he had never heard within his hammer
came stomping up the trunks. And as he worked within his shattered
40 Sunday shop, the wood took shape: dry shuttered
eyes, slack anciently everted lips, flat
ruined face, eaten by pox, ravaged by rat
and woodworm, dry cistern mouth, cracked
gullet crying for the desert, the heavy black
45 enduring jaw; lost pain, lost iron;
emerging woodwork image. of his anger.
‘Ogun is the Yoruba and Afro-Carribean creator-god.