To say that it glowed,
the tractor’s half-scale replica,
its twenty polished woods seamless and separate
as a tract of furrows filled with rain,
is to offer the finish before the start,
the worm before the jig. Yet to say late sun,
cast through the fair’s barn-turned-exhibition hall,
burnished it, as it burnished
the jars of yellow beets, shifts agency
to a higher power. Three years, the woodworker said,
two thousand hours drawing walnut’s brindled light,
and whatever light the willow offered,
the cedar and birch, the African mahogany.
Almost alchemy, how sanding transformed
wood to grain. Almost chemistry: friction, air,
vapors beneath the polish cloth—almost
complete combustion, the perfect half-scale whole of it
clean as the flames some candles offer. Though to say
that it drew from its absent shape,
as candles do, suggests a labor less touched
by time, or a time less touched by absence.
Hour by hour, something like harmony
passed through the room, while something like melanin rose in the model’s polished wood,
in the Kalif dahlias and sawdust floor, then darkened
a table-top tapestry, the spokes of grain and braided vines arranged like a living wagon wheel,
and darkened the wheel hub’s gathered quince
and a slender ripple of corn silk wind—
illusion’s ancient artifact:
thin strands stretching out from a back-cast rim
to show that a stillness was turning.
From Roget's Illusion by Linda Bierds, published by Marian Wood/Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Linda Bierds.