“Maybe poets are not liars,” suggests Nicholas Trandahl in his latest collection Pulling Words. And what follows, is a volume of honest, deftly-crafted verse. Trandahl shows that the poet can be equally a father, a soldier, a nature enthusiast, and a wordsmith. His poems range from memories of small town life in “The House up on Pine Street” to his experiences as a soldier in “The Box Made of Bone.” Because of his unpretentious tone and awareness of nature, his work brings to mind Raymond Carver and Gary Snyder. But more important, these poems are organic and relatable to readers who normally shun poetry. Pulling Words is a solid collection that is enjoyable without being overly academic. So when it is suggested to me, “Maybe poets are not liars?” I have to answer that this one is not. False words never have this much conviction.
Wishing the survivors of the storms in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico a speedy recovery, I’m posting a piece titled “Yard Work.” I wrote this a few years ago after cleaning up from Hurricane Gustav.
I woke when the flood waters rolled downhill. Feeling exhausted at 6 a.m., I shielded my Zippo with cupped hands. The flicker transitioned to flame, yellow to orange. I kindled the blaze on old headlines, adding pine needles and maple leaves, the smoke perfumed, nostalgic.
The sky softened to slate gray. A wash of pink warmed the horizon. I shed my desk-job complexion, gathering limbs as the sun grew white and searing. The mist lifted as I raked the mulch that washed out of my flowerbeds. I draped my flannel shirt over a stump, making a mental note to get it later. My Case knife weighted it down. Stirring the embers, I gathered more leaves, dropping them on top, the pall woodsy and damp. I got the small branches first, crossing them on the center. The fallen pine was sap-filled and unmovable. I pulled with both hands. Its nubs dug into the ground. I found my axe, the handle still broke after two winters. The new one propped in the corner, wrapped in brown paper. Grabbing it, I took refuge in the shadow of the pines. Uncoiling the hose and turning on the water, I slowed the flow with my thumb. It tasted deep earth cool as it washed the grit from my mouth. I drank once more then retrieved my knife, bone-handled with three blades, and whittled down the handle to a snug fit. Placing it in the eye of the axe-head, I hammered it in place and became one with the work, tearing muscle, moving single-minded until I dismantled the limb. With a shovel, I plunged down into the dead roots, slashed their hold, and fed them to the fire. They sputtered curses. Phoenix-shaped ashes ascended from the blaze.
I broke the earth until the ground leveled, planted Sago palms and Confederate roses, arranged day lilies and azaleas, reds and whites, tiny roots watered and fed, new pages being written.
My shoulders ached.
I was humbled.
I was uplifted.