“Tall Tale–A Lumber Camp Massacre” by Gina Marie Bernard

The snow arrived at 11:11, superstitious numbers for the Cass Lake loggers:
    four parallel pines announcing the banking storm.

Men had been promised a day and a half of women and whiskey,
    and drug themselves from the forest, footfalls heavy as felled fir.

These thirsty birlers—Norwegians, French Canadians, Irishmen—carried
    upon their shoulders broad axes and serrated saws,

but buried deep within their woolens they bore darker truckage:
    national pride and prejudice as sharp as crushed juniper.

Words were exchanged; insults cutting wide swath, barked behind backs
    as vast as tracts of old growth.

And the snow drifted, quietly piling.

The first hushed rumor crept in on a bitter breeze, climbed canvas walls
    like a murder of crows.

Winter weather arrested caravans of camp kittens and brown bottles
    tinkling merrily beneath buckboards.

Wood alcohol served as surrogate, passed from calloused hands as pitched
    as leaves still fluttering on December pecker poles.

They staggered about a great pyre which foundered, found faith, flamed high.
    Rancor remained sober, fine as lines on a topographical map.

Insane silhouettes rose up trunks, black like the tongues of demons.
    Inhibitions asphyxiated; curses dripped thick from squalid beards:

Forpulte heste kuk!

                 Va te faire défoncer!

                                    Go to Jaysus, ya feckin’ cocktrough!

Some say it was a whistle punk from Donegal Bay who first fancied
    a blaze under the chin of a sorry Scandinavian,

hefted adz, and punched blade to haft—blood splashing his boots
    like the waters of a distant fjord.

Aroused by poison, lumbermen were hewed down in an ecstasy of severed limbs
    and shattered bone aglow in the lurid light.

The fallen fourteen toppled over each other like widow makers, just beyond
    the pop of gray-green cones hissing into the night.

A savage slashing of hair and edged steel soaked the disturbed ground,
    frozen lips grimacing, crippled fingers curling in rigor.

And when morning broke, snow lingered—blanketing all in a soundless sougan.

Gina Marie Bernard holds B.A., B.S., and M.A. degrees from Bemidji State University. She currently writes and teaches high school English in Bemidji, Minnesota. Her daughters, Maddie and Parker, are the two halves of her heart. Her work has recently appeared in Appalachia, Balloons Lit. Journal, Border Crossing, Burningword Literary Journal, Fox Cry Review, Glitterwolf Magazine, Tule Review, and Uprooted: An Anthology of Gender and Illness.

Sydney Vance
Sydney Vance

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