“Cracked Hands and Frost Heaves”, “The Wood Stack”... by Matt McGuirk

“Cracked Hands and Frost Heaves”

Cracked hands and frost heaves,

bookends to the winter season.

Snow etching its way onto the map means the wood stove,

if it wasn’t popping and glowing already.

The cold weather and the heat play tricks on skin,

it’s a size smaller than it was a few months ago

and wearing through here and there

like old jeans.

The roads are slick,

spinouts on morning commutes and snowbanks burying stop signs at times,

but those get chased away by warming spring temps–

sometimes false hope in the form of dripping icicles

and receding snowbanks.

Ground water loosens,

but winter sometimes has a different plan and brings another hard freeze

forming wrinkles and fissures in the once perfect pavement.

The maintenance continues with fresh asphalt and Working Man’s Hands

well into spring.



“The Wood Stack”


The temperature is dropping to the 30s tonight

and there’s wood to be collected from the neat piles,

all stacked in sections, cords upon cords

seasoned grey like stone or still holding their reddish or blondish hue,

clinging to a youth of sorts.

The basement is dark, dusty and dry,

but the outside air etches speech bubbles as I exit the house.


I stare at the wood stack,

it’s menacing for some reason,

not because there’s some animal behind it breathing white puffs into the night

or because I’m afraid of diving splinters,

but I read somewhere black widows like seasoned wood--

the kind we have and the kind I need to warm the house on nights like these.

I’ve heard they’re the most venomous spider

with that blood filled hourglass

to signal their poison,

a shout of warning even into a night this dark.

The eight legs working between splintered rings of wood

or carving out a home in a missing knot.


I know we need the wood, but in a way

I’m wondering if the oil will hold out or if I can go buzz down

that ash tree in the middle of the night.

I’m sure the neighbors wouldn’t mind a roaring chainsaw

in the dead black of winter.

I settle on burning a few pallets in the basement

and figure I’ll deal with the problem tomorrow

when the blushing light has kissed the stack

and chased off any spiders.





"Frozen But Still Thawing"



I reached down and swept off a thin layer of snow,

just a dusting from the night before.

The ice showed thinner than it would in January’s deep freeze,

more mirror and less opaque fog.

The sheen of the sun hadn’t come from behind the clouds,

but it reflected me,

at least as I know me

at this moment in time.


There’s small fissures in the layer of ice,

something that’s there,

cracked but just a little.

Something that will harden over once January hits

and the temperatures don’t rise above freezing,

there’s something to consistency even in the harshest of times.

Those cracks are something that might be remembered,

but could easily pass when the ice refortifies, gathering strength.


After the hard freezes cover the cracks,

there’s a sense of safety, stability,

a sense of ease that you’ve made it through the dangerous times.

How long before the ice thins again,

forming little cracks along the surface,

weakening what was once strong?

How long before treading on this ice in early spring

becomes a thing of danger

as it was the previous one?

How many times can you make the same mistake?





“Stored Memories”



The house was clean, staged and ready to go.

It was the kid in me or maybe the historian

that wanted to see the attic before waving goodbye to the realtor

and placing our offer at 15% above listing.

The stairs creaked, as old stairs do;

cobwebs and dust collected in a film

as is the case with forgotten spaces;

light hid from darkness

and sounds always struck wrong chords

with bad acoustics.

It was all boxes,

were they always there,

stuffed with things from lives forgotten

or misremembered?

Photo albums in this one,

childrens’ toys in that one,

old china sets from when china sets were a thing

and family dinners were a thing.

All captured in those cardboard boxes or stuffed in corners.

Who knew decades could fit in 12’’x18’’ spaces?



“Lyrics Lost In Time”


The backseat of a car is good for a lot of things,

but commutes are long,

even for processing the day.

Flicks of my mind

to normal backseat actions from days old pulling at clothes that fit a little tight,

eager for something not yet experienced.

Songs drown out silence,

like rain quiets traffic

when you’re stuck on some interstate.

I’d never song heard the first, echoing through,

something about the sea.

My mind runs in waves to footsteps in hot sand, asking to run down to the arcade on the pier

because it really isn’t that far.

Name scrawled across the back of my shirt

causing a couple quick words from someone in French

and a confused conversation to follow.

“Turn the stations, please.”

A rap song about drinking and instantly I’m in a smoke-filled basement

of a frat house, somewhere in my late teens

or early 20s,

before bars were legal

and when freedom was the most important thing.

“Next, please.”

My mind cycling with Beck, the number of friends I had back then,

relationships withering like petals from a flower.

Where’d they all go…are we all outsiders like him?

“Can you cut the radio?”

I knew that sometimes

silence is better,

a little time to lose myself

in the moments of the day

and not for lyrics

to lose me in time.




Matt McGuirk teaches and lives with his family in New Hampshire. BOTN 2021 nominee with words in various lit mags and a debut collection with Alien Buddha Press called Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities available on Amazon and linked on his website.

Website: http://linktr.ee/McGuirkMatthew Twitter: @McguirkMatthew Instagram: @mcguirk_matthew.