Bob Watts

Carpenter Bees


The end of May, and no one tells

the bees, so they don’t stop. 

For them, nothing has changed, a hum

rising in the shed’s thin walls

like the lull and mutter of a tractor

turning up a field, the same

as every spring.  Dust falls

on rough board shelves, builds drifts

years deep.  Flaked paper-thin,

white pine fills peanut cans

of bolts, jar after lidless jar

of washers, random screws,

an axe dust-dulled, hard curves

of wrenches blurred,

a hacksaw toothless to the dust. 

In time, they’d make the shed

a memory, the shape

of emptiness, their bodies

making dust, becoming dust

beside the lacework walls

the sun blows through.



The Sound of One Tree Falling


Not much is pretty here.  My father sprawls

out of the sun, his back against an oak,

the saw between his legs while he sets steel

to steel, filing the chain.  July sweat soaks

his polyester shirt, a brown field deep

in tangled hardwood laps, firewood to cut

and sell this winter, stumps like casualties

in front of him, behind the work to come.


But see the craft with which he shapes each tooth

to bite deep, clean, race through the hardest wood,

the art in how he puts the saw to use,

drops each tree where it’s easiest to haul,

and hear, when leaves give green tongue to the wind

of their own dying, beauty in the fall.





For Dad and J.L.


  1.  Working the Green End


Calloused, stained black by oak

sap ground through leather gloves,

blunt instruments, we bore

the crossties’ sharp-edged weight,

built board by board square stacks

of poplar, maple, pine,

not skilled but practiced, trained

by chains that brought us lumber,

sweat, monotony.


Washed clean on Friday night,

we cradled cigarettes,

too many cans of beer,

girlfriends, the steering wheels

of cars we drove high speed

on moonlit country roads,

trying to catch what life

kept spilling through our grasp.


  1. Lebanon Baptist


A boy, standing between

my father, whose hands held,

even in their repose,

the chainsaw’s throb and shudder,

and another whose were shaped

to grabskips, logging cables,

long days of strain, I knew,

when we joined hands in prayer,

that mine would never own

the well-wrought iron of theirs,

rigid and comfortable.

        return to poetry

Bob Watts is an Assistant Professor in English/Creative Writing at Lehigh University.  His first collection, Past Providence (David Robert Books, February 2005), won the 2004 Stanzas Prize from David Robert Books, and his poems have been published in Poetry, The Paris Review, Great River Review and reDivider, among other journals.