After scary sickness, weeks in bed,
today I’m better.
Head clear. Body hollow, sixteen
pounds shed in sweat and snot.

So I call Dial-A-Lawyer,
write a will by phone.
Drive to the city, Social Security
to register my daughter
who is unknown by the state,
born at home
one year to this date.
Bring her along as proof.
Plan a death and record a birth.

My beloved bakes a cake. One candle.
I’m still a bit shaky. Can’t rest.
Where’s my tool belt?
It’s time to build toys. A wagon.
A house. Soon.
A life for this daughter.

first published in *Snapdragon*
Winter 2016

Hello sawdust.
     I’m back.
Scent of sap,
     taste of tannin,
          tickle of fine grit,
after rehab pain,
     through every portal
          you awaken my brain.

Powder of sun ray,
powder of fog’s drip,
powder of soil thrust
     through roots to the sky,
hot breath of the forest
     you complete my healing.
Such a feeling!

Sing to me the rhythm of craft.
Guide my fingers, the work will flow.
Sing, sawdust.

First published in *Snapdragon*
December 2015
Joe Cottonwood Mar 31

You, my old companion,
I’ve junked three trucks and still I keep you.
Buried five dogs. Raised three children
who are now raising children.
And still I wear you.

You jingle when I walk.
Nails clink in pouches.
The drill in its holster slaps my leg.
The hammer in its clip spanks my butt.
You bristle with screwdrivers, chisel,
big fat pencil, needlenose plier.
You call attention. Random kids
who have never seen a tool belt before
follow me around asking
“What are you doing?”
Then: “Can I help?”

You smell like me (and I, like you).
Leather, fourth decade.
I’ve washed your pouches with saddle soap,
sewn your seams with dental floss.
Now the web of your belt is fraying,
wrapped (silly, I know) with duct tape.

Your pockets fill over time.
Once in a while I remove every tool,
every last screw and nail.
I hold you upside down and shake.
Sawdust, a dead spider, little strippings
of insulated wire will fall out.
And once, my missing wedding ring.
It had broken. I had taken it to a jeweler
for repair, but when I got there
I couldn’t find it. A year later,
you coughed it up.

When your webbing finally snaps,
when you drop from my waist,
maybe it’s you, old tool belt, I’ll take
to the jeweler for remounting,
for buff and polish. He’ll understand.

First published in *Workers Write!* April 2016
Joe Cottonwood Mar 28

The carpenter in one glance
undresses the house
with his eyes.
She, a Victorian dame
of voluptuous frame
in faded, ragged dress
seems to blush
at his appraisal.

He yearns to explore
intimate spaces,
strip her pretension,
commit filthy acts
hammering skillfully
with strange pleasure,
the work of hands,
attention to detail,
rubbing sweet oils
her inner beauty revealed.

It will end in soft strokes
a thoughtful cleanup
leaving an afterglow
of rejuvenation.
Her timbers moan
with anticipation.

First published in *Workers Write!* April 2016
Joe Cottonwood Feb 19

Sun rises in a dry sky,
we walk a dirt road,
the dog and I.
Rounding a bend
little Mickey halts,
one paw lifted.

Three deer—a buck, a doe, a fawn—
senses ablaze with the twitch of ear,
quiver of nose, blink of eye
take our measure.

The buck has a handsome rack
but I can see ribs, count the bones.
I once saw a doe maul an Aussie shepherd, cracking
the skull with her forelegs to protect a fawn.
Mickey with uncommon good judgment
stays frozen by my ankle.

A moment, mild,
of silent negotiation,
the domestic and the wild.
With such hunger the fawn, at least,
might eat from my hand
before the buck spears me.

The doe breaks first, up a hillside so vertical
her hooves can’t hold. She slides back,
then on a switchback leaps again
followed quickly by the fawn
as the buck remains, impassive and supreme,
gentleman and protector,
what you wish in your own father, frankly,
and then he follows with that head-bobbing walk
balancing antlers into the parched brush
holding our gaze until vanished.

First published in Plum Tree Tavern.
With the Oroville Dam about to burst, obviously we are no longer dry in California. I wrote this poem last year when we were suffering a five-year drought.
When the subject is rain, be careful what you wish for...
Joe Cottonwood Feb 18

flapping on a line
                faded like a hazy sky
        once bright as bluebirds
How I miss your threads
        pale pink
                once scarlet as a rose

Belly to belly
        sheets are packaged
                in pairs
We could frolic
        in puffs
                of air

My clothespin
        to your rope
Come clean
        sweet cotton
                for romance
        let’s dance

Joe Cottonwood Feb 15

toddling, stiff-hipped
thoughtfully sniffs each stalk of weed
as if savoring
dog poetry
When I urge her forward
with a tug of leash
she collapses with a yelp
so I help
pushing from the rear
a tangle of butt, tail
furry legs
In the wild
some predator would have
eaten her long ago
feasted on her weakness
that’s the natural order
of critics

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