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Most of the furniture in our house is wood, found curbside like the tiny wooden table that caught my eye yesterday a few blocks from home. Polished burled top, slender wooden dowels, sturdy legs, it looked handmade. My backpack was stuffed full of heavy groceries but I picked the table up anyway and carried it home like a baby.
Box beam ceilings, cherry cabinets, oak floors, maple radiator covers. My house is over a century old, so the wood it’s made from must be far older than that, but it feels alive to me. After we moved in I wrote to the former owner, a cabinetmaker who had made all the kitchen cabinets, all the fitted radiator covers, a man who loves wood as much as me but, unlike me, knows everything about it.
Can you tell me about the wood in the house? was my question, and his long, long reply detailed the specifics of each room. Sorry, he signed off. I‘m sure this is way more than you ever wanted to know. I guess you can tell how much I love wood.
I thought about that man when I turned the tiny table over and saw the initials of the person who made it, burned into the wood.
Essay on Wood, by James Richardson
At dawn when rowboats drum on the dock
and every door in the breathing house bumps softly
as if someone were leaving quietly, I wonder
if something in us is made of wood,
maybe not quite the heart, knocking softly,
or maybe not made of it, but made for its call.
Of all the elements, it is happiest in our houses.
It will sit with us, eat with us, lie down
and hold our books, themselves a rustling woods,
bearing our floors and roofs without weariness,
for unlike us it does not resent its faithfulness
or question why, for what, how long?
Its branchings have slowed the invisible feelings of light
into vortices smooth for our hands,
so that every fine-grained handle and page and beam
is a wood-word, a standing wave:
years that never pass, vastness never empty,
speed so great it cannot be told from peace.
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