“Miraculous Sawdust” by Bonnie Buhrow

Bonnie Buhrow


The girl couldn’t speak English.
She couldn’t whistle or hum, let alone sing.
She never knew her parents’ names or the names
of her sisters and brothers, her town.
No one paid attention to her at the factory
where she moved the wooden pallets which were now only loose boards of lost nails
outside to the graveyard of pallets.
The boys eyed her like a distant untouchable cousin.
One girl said she looked like a neglected houseplant.
Days meant nothing to her,
who knows where she went when the slow horn signaled go home, go elsewhere.
Those from around here thought she was a foreigner and the foreigners
wondered where she came from.
On break as the others smoked and chattered, she stood
looking out the high streaked windows staring at the trees.
Trees are mighty, but wood
cut from the tree and carpentered into a rough utility
breaks down very quickly out in the open,
juggernaut central for weather and insects and small vandals
running from the watchman.
At noon the other women ate their dry sandwiches quickly
and then clucked and pecked like a loose little flock
while the girl stole outside to an abandoned shaft
of darkness and barely any air, where
she practiced levitating her body
just a few inches up toward the patch of sky and then back down,
then back up, back down.
Every day she honed her skills: levitating, floating, until she reached
a flawless buoyancy.
She was like a flake of cork, a molted feather.
A tree takes molecules of oxygen, sunshine, the soil
and turns them all into more tree
which then
gets turned into beams, books, battering rams, love letters, homes for the aging.
The girl too was turning into something else—that was her magic.
Every day she rose slightly higher into the amused air
and every day she became more and more mantra-like, more transparent
so that finally only the old blind dog could sense she was there,
beyond prayers, beyond beliefs,
in the light filtering through the sawdust.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018


Bonnie Buhrow: “I wrote this recent poem about twenty years after my first day of work at a large printing business. I was a temp worker, and back then that was not the norm. The poem was inspired by my sense of the hostility of the permanent workers and the oppressive physical atmosphere of that particular factory. I often write poems about past experiences and all the feelings and unlikely connections that accumulate around those usually small moments.”

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