To A Siberian Woodsman
BY WENDELL BARRY
A farmer in Kentucky at a Commonwealth retreat
After looking at some pictures in a magazine,
You exude ease in your warm house at night after supper,
As you listen to your daughter play the accordion.
You smile with a man, who has confidence in his hands,
Resting, after a long day of labor in the forest.
With the cry of the saw in your head,
And a vision of coming home to rest,
Your daughter’s face is clear in the joy of hearing her own music.
Her fingers live on the keys.
Like people familiar with the land they were born on,
You sit at the dinner table late into the night with your son,
Tying the bright flies that will lead you along the forest streams.
Over you, as your hands work, is the dream of the still pools.
Over you is the dream of your silence.
While the east brightens, birds waking close by me in the trees
I have thought of you stepping out of your doorway at dawn
Your son in your tracks.
You go into the overarching branches of the forest, whose ways are strange to me,
But are as well known to youas the sound of your voice.
Oh the silence that lies around you, now that you have ceased to speak.
And soon the voice of the stream rises ahead of you,
And you take the path beside it.
I have thought of the sun breaking pale the mist over you,
As you come to the pool where you will fish,
And the mist drifts over the water
Where you cast the fly, which rests light upon the face of the pool.
I am here in Kentucky
In a place I have made myself in the world.
I sit on my porch above the river that flows slow along the feet of the trees.
I hear the voices of the wren and the yellow-throated warbler,
Whose songs pass near the windows and over the roof?
In my house, my daughter learns the womanhood of her mother.
My son is at play, pretending to be the man he believes I am.
I am the out-breathing of this ground.
My words are its words, as the wren’s song is its song.
Who invented our enmity?
Who has prescribed us hatred of each other?
Who has armed us against each other with the death of the world?
Who has appointed me with such anger, that I should desire the burning of your house
Or the destruction of your children?
Who has appointed such anger to you?
Who has set loose the thought, that we should oppose each other with the ruin of forests and rivers and the silence of birds?
Who has said to us that the voices of my land shall be strange to you and the voices of your land strange to me?
Who has imagined that I would destroy myself in order to destroy you?
Or that I could improve myself by destroying you?
Who has imagined that your death could be negligible to me, now that I have seen these pictures of your face?
Who has imagined that I would not speak familiarly with you, or laugh with you, or visit you in your home, or go to work with you in your forest?
And now one of these ideas will be replaced with an thought that you would gladly talk and visit and work with me.
I sit in the shade of the trees of the land I was born in.
As they are native, I am native, and I hold to this place as carefully as they hold to it.
I do not see the national flag flying from the staff of the Sycamore,
Nor any decree of the government written on the leaves of the Walnut.
Nor has the Elm bowed before monuments or sworn the oath of allegiance.
They have not declared to whom they stand in welcome.
In the thought of you, I imagine myself free of the weapons and official hates
that I have born on my back, like a hump.
And in the thought of myself, I imagine you free of weapons and official hates,
so that if we would meet,
we would not go by each other looking at the ground,
like slaves sullen under their burdens, but would stand in gaze of each other.
Who fishes with you in silence beside the forest pool?
There is no national glory so comely as your daughter,
Whose hands have learned the music and go their own way on the keys.
There is no national glory so comely as my daughter,
Who dances and sings and is the brightness of my house.
There is no government so worthy as our sons,
Who laugh as they come up the path from the river in the evening filled with joy.
Rev. Judi Venturini shared this poem with her congregation, Unity of Lehigh Valley in Emmaus, Pa., on the recent anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, and writes:
In April of 1989, upon hearing these words, I vowed to myself to honor all humankind as my brothers and sisters. I was tied with heartstrings to the Siberian woodsman, who still dances in my heart today. On this day, these words were etched in my head: “We thank Thee, Father of all, for the light that shines in us forever. We honor it, because You share it as us. We are united in this light forever.”
Rev. Judi Venturini