Winter Poems

by Paul Zarzyski

A sacrilege against my blue-collar
Catholic manhood, I no longer cut my own
winter supply. I pay 85 a cord
delivered, but I’ll be damned
if I’ll stand idly by and watch Willy stack it
solo. When he backs-in his flatbed Ford
cornbinder, leaf springs groaning
under the nice jag of dry lodgepole pine,
How she goin’ Willy, I ask, after
not having seen him in purt-near a year,
him grinning his big Polish grin,
his porterhouse steak grip swallowing mine,
Good, good, his reply, while apologizing,
in the same breath, for 5-6 blocks
of punky butts he slipped into the load
not knowing he’d be hauling it here. Just
so she fills a hole in the stack
and makes a little ash,
I laugh back
at him still grinning, his head tipped
almost at rest on his left shoulder, crescent
moon of movie-star-teeth
cradled in a dark-night-sky
weathered face. Without another word,
we go to work
until, on the tailend of the blow we take
two ricks into the load, he opens up,
says remember how you asked how I was? Well—
he tosses me one of the punky blocks—
the doc thinks I got prostate cancer,
landing in my hands
with an unexpected heft
yanking me almost to the ground. Burning
barely enough BTUs to keep warm,
we finish the job, drink a cold beer, talk
1957 Chevs and Polish galumpkis
we grew up on—honest 8-by-4-by-4 cords,
chainsaws, sawbones, the Packers, Monday night,
taking on the Vikes at Lambeau, our Green-‘n’-Gold
struggling to keep their playoff hopes
alive against long odds. Two fast friends
burning the same wood, watching the same
game on separate television sets
miles apart in our own living rooms, we pull
hard for the unlikely win—believing
at the same time, there’s always next year.

                                                                        For Willy Puzon

From Wolf Tracks on the Welcome Mat (Oreanabooks, 2003)