This week’s poem, Jennifer Onken’s “Wood,” is a meditation on couples – and on oft-shifting tensions between the one and the two. I love the vivid rural chores of this poem, the blunt conversational tone of its couplets, and the honest ambivalence with which it contemplates love.

Onken lives and teaches high school near Berwick. Her recent poems have appeared in The Night Heron Barks, on Maine Public Radio and in Harbor Review. In 2019, her poem won the Maine Poets Society prize for previously unpublished poets, and her micro-chapbook “That First Toss” was a finalist for the Washburn Prize. She recently completed her MFA from Warren Wilson College.

Poets, please note that submissions to Deep Water are open through the end of the year. Deep Water is especially eager to share poems by Black writers, writers of color, Indigenous writers and other underrepresented voices. You’ll find a link to submit in the credits below.

 

Wood

By Jennifer Onken

 

There he was, big in his rough canvas coat and Red Sox cap,

knocking softly, truck idling in the drive, the neighbor

 

we hardly knew, asking out in the cold whether we needed

the old stacked wood under the oak. We could use it to burn,

 

he asked. Of course, take it, we said. We have no wood stove

here. The next morning the stack was gone. By summer,

 

we could see across the lane that he was gone

and then his kids were gone and then soon enough

 

the little house was sold. What do I know about the way

that family fell apart except the man could not

 

make a fire. And then across the way, Amy’s gone.

Another home down from two to one. And I see John push

 

the wheel barrow into the field alone when in summer

they’d walk it in their gumboots two by two. Why did they build

 

the barn so far? They had to dig a second deepwater

well. It was like all along they’d built the place for two.

 

Most days you wake up early to walk the dog

and start the coffee and I’m alone

 

and happy in our bed; I wonder what makes me

stay. It’s true, I hate the way you are always leaving

 

pencils on every level surface; I hate to trim

your ear’s last few errant hairs. I hate the—

 

you know to keep me close would put me out.

I split from one to two each time I turn around.

 

This wood may burn or lie here on the ground.

 

Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “Wood,” copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Onken, appears by permission of the author. Submissions to Deep Water are open now and through the end of the year. For more information, go to mainewriters.org/deep-water.


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