A journal of narrative writing.
Cutting Toward the Body

Listen to “Cutting Toward the Body”
read by Brandon Courtney

Birch knots catch in the saw blade. The belts, in a high-pitched squeal, split off & the black teeth of the gear box lose their song, bringing the blade to rest. The foreman’s halting whistle pipes loud enough to stir birds from trees marked orange for felling. My father—lungs choked with sawdust— follows the mill hands to the parking lot. Men huddle around the hood of a truck packing cigarettes against their palms, lighters open & close, the clank of metal against metal. For years, I’ve been awakened by the sound of steel defeating wood. I used to think I knew what a cut could teach us: to dissolve, as in, the kerosene my father used to cut through the machine oil caked on his hands, one muddying the other; to detach, as in: severing the wings from the body of a pheasant— the tendons, white gristle, the tangled sinews, meat from its breast enough to fill three mouths; to divide, as in, the way the eyes edit the dead from photographs, the way the mind parts here from here no longer. Soon, he will stand at the doorway unrolling sawdust from his shirtsleeves, knocking a week’s worth of wood chips from his boots & my mother, familiar with the grit that camps in all he owns, stands in the dull light of the kitchen, shaving slivers of an apple over the sink. He’ll see this first, slip the knife from her hands, & explain to her slowly the importance of cutting away from the body; I know now what a cut can teach us, to trim: as in, my father sitting on the corner of the bed, my mother kneeling before him, cutting his fingernails short enough to bleed, pulling splinters from the pads of his fingers. Tweezers, cotton balls, iodine & my father, quiet, watches my mother press metal to his hands. Still, he doesn’t flinch.