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The Carpenter’s Bench by Wendy Haslam

Among wood shavings and dust
he stands at his bench.
That solid, sturdy bench.
Through the window, light
picks out the weathered surface
it’s history held in deep cuts,
stains of bleeding oil cans and
drips of red undercoat.

With eyes unseeing, he stares
out onto his tiny, tidy patch of green.
Seeing a moment before the bench
before the shed
before this house, this town,
before this wife,
before five children.
Before his mind split open.
Before, when he could speak,
when he could smile.

One moment: when
like all the men
boots thick with mud
a rifle in one hand,
his brother beside him
about to leave the trench.
one moment as the barrage lessened
– short seconds between explosions.
One moment when
he still had a brother.

The scene plays again and again until
a sound unlike war, calls him back.
Wearily he looks around,
runs a hand over the bench-
its solidity, its reality-
before he sees the child,
touches the half finished toy
and begins for a moment
to forget.