In Imitation of Hemingway

See the man letting in the remote stars. He stands in the timber frame of the doorway. Bark peels along the hinges. A springer spaniel the man calls Kaylon cocks his head at a squirrel, silky ears hanging past his chin. An ax clutched against his palm fits the wrap of his fingers. The other arm dangles at his side handless. Cold air seeps through the door frame, brushing against the twine fibers of his gloves. Nothing moves across the moonless landscape. Only snow jumps free from the branch of a fir, suddenly. The dog nudges his calves. He inhales the sharp air. The exhale frosts his bearded cheeks. The deep cold of December invades the spaces around his body stealing firelight from the room behind him. It’s a tundra cold, freezing man or beast down to the ground cartilage of rusted joints. The phantom nerves of the missing hand ache, despite the time passed since he lost her. With another inhale, exhale, he crunches into the night. Heavy work boots leave the porch to split firewood that means heated blood. The dog bounds one joy woof across the drifts. Crusted over –melted, frozen, melted, frozen –the surface shelf breaks beneath paw and boot. He thinks about his work –written, erased, written, erased –breaking beneath the heft of talking. “Though there is one part of writing that is solid and you do it no harm by talking about it, the other is fragile, and if you talk about it, the structure cracks and you have nothing,” the trees silently absorb his thought. They call him pretentious, for knowing more about the feel of words than they did. He likes the way the words slip through the spaces of the page, each lingering a moment to be pressed into the ink by the keys. The poetry he writes sits warmly inside a locked desk drawer. He never takes it out. He adds a printed sheet on Sundays. He never takes it out. No one told him writing poetry defines a man’s masculinity in ways no ax or forest or muscle can. The thump of steel striking wood splits the night. Bark flies onto the snow. Sap beads the blade. Heat pours from his chest. His body arcs to compensate for underdeveloped shoulder tendons. The spaniel snuffles the wood chips, as their piney scent wafts silently on the frigid air. A stack of firewood mounts. He rolls the logs up the good arm with the stump, pressing them into his chest. There was a woman once who pressed –but no, he will not think of her now. She’s gone, too, with the hand. Kaylon rushes to the doorway, eager to tend the fire. It’s just a man and a dog before the flickering embers. Oxygen rushes upon the coals as tender tree flesh catches flame with a hiss. Somewhere beyond the sky rim, a timber wolf howls.

And the stars seep under the door.


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