An adult sister and brother chop wood on a mountain in Nevada three months after their father succumbed to lung cancer. They reminisce about their childhood--the cabins they built, Spam sandwiches they ate, their tough father. When the poet-daughter thinks of the whippings they received, she says, "They'd have put him in jail today. I used to beg / and run circles. You got it worse because you / never cried."

The man's daughter, Leslie (named after her grandfather), helps them carry and stow the chopped logs. They run into a group of childhood friends, now mostly loggers. "What'll you do next, after the trees are gone?" the poet asks. As they drive home, Leslie falls asleep in the truck.

This poem takes place in the world of grief, a world in which the past and present are intermixed and ordinary day-to-day events groan under the weight of deep meaning. Indeed, the scenes depicted here have double significance; the poet steps out of them like a Greek chorus and comments, "Tomorrow a log pile will collapse / on him and he will just get out alive." The scene of grief over the father's death is well fixed in her memory because it is so closely attached to her brother's imminent almost-death. [169 lines]


In my poetry library, Gallagher's Willingly sits beside the Complete Poems of Robert Frost. Aside from alphabetical proximity, the similarities between these poets are few, but "Woodcutting on Lost Mountain" is strikingly suggestive of one of Frost's long narrative poems, such as Home Burial or The Death of the Hired Man (see this database). Like Frost's narratives, "Woodcutting on Lost Mountain" looks at first to be a plainspoken story that lacks artifice, a casual slice-of-life, when in fact the poem is highly disciplined, and the understated dynamic between characters carries reverberations of meaning.

Primary Source




Place Published

Port Townsend, Wash.