Sunday, December 27, 2009


[Published in The Copperfield Review, Fall 2011]


In 1805, John Ratcliff, a Virginia Quaker, delivered 340 cypress boards to pay his deceased brother’s $6.00 fine for repeatedly refusing to appear for militia training.

Brother, I cut these boards for thee—
from the cypress trees thee planned to fell,
easily cut and worked by hand,
but strong and sturdy;
fine planks to side a house
or panel the room thee planned to add.

William, I cut these boards for thee—
memories of thee scribed in every board,
thy face in the swirls of grain,
thy hands in the rough edges,
as I grip each board and stack
for sale in Williamsburg.

Dear Will, I cut these boards for thee—
each board a fresh reminder
that thou art no longer here
to share these warm Spring days,
to walk the newly planted fields,
to break the silence of Meeting to share thy thoughts.

O Will, I cut these boards for thee—
three hundred and forty; every one
to pay the fine levied
for thy refusal to appear
on the militia field
and train in the ways of waging war.

O Will, I cut these boards for thee—
with each one my heart rips more
and the Inner Light is repelled
as the sour bile of anger rises,
as the saw blade rips through each log,
and the sapwood bleeds my pain.

Dearest Will, these boards were cut for thee—
at end of day, each cypress board,
straight and stacked with loving care,
and in repeated motions—lift and stack—
that of God refreshed in me
by these boards I cut for thee.

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