The First Four Hours

1 May 2017

‘Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.’
– unknown; often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln

However blunt the blade was
to begin with, one must admit:
the time allocated to undertake the task

seems excessive. Four hours
with the stovepipe hat set aside, the shirtsleeves
rolled, four hours whistling as he held

the weapon to the whetstone’s happy edge
or brought it to the wheel, then depressed
and depressed his hefty boot,

scraping out sparks in a celebratory
cascade. He must have stopped
every so often to roll his shoulders, to stretch

the presidential neck and quadriceps —
nevertheless, patience is the lesson,
patience while his waistcoat darkens

from perspiration, while he ignores
a sacral ache, patience while state business
remains in stasis, patience while the thing

is whittled sharper than the republican
cheekbones from which his gravitas hung. Surely
there comes a point at which the thing

can be no keener, when the dream
of raw timber becomes sweeter
than any genuine sap could be, varnishing

one’s palms with its dark, deciduous gleam.
There must be a moment in which
preparation extends past itself,

past readiness, into the pleasure inherent
in tension; some unstatesmanlike frisson,
too impolitic to mention.

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