Dale Ritterbusch’s most recent contribution to the military-industrial-educational complex involves a tour of duty as Distinguished Visiting Professor at the United States Air Force Academy. Currently, he is performing a similar mission as Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He is the author of Far From the Temple of Heaven and Lessons Learned: Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath.
After months of complaint, I relent, take the axe from the garage and walk to the back yard, to the large stump of an elm felled several years before by the city because the tree was dying from the scourge of Dutch Elm disease, and the rule imposed by the city fathers forced the destruction of any tree so diagnosed even if it stood strong against the winds or offered a canopy of shade in summer. Yet now the stump is an eyesore, landscape bleak in its deceitful reminder, mushrooms growing defiantly from its damp decay, so I whack and whale at the strong remains, chips flying in every direction, make scant headway in its disappearance, sweat burning my eyes, heart beat racing with each strike, squirrels chattering overhead. One more strike and the axe rebounds with a spark, a metallic burst as I hit a buried spike, axe twisted from my hand: shock rings burn along my arms, across my shoulders, down my spine, stinging like a baseball bat hitting a rock. The axe blade glints ruin, a large chunk of metal dinged out of the blade, far beyond resharpening, and the spike glistens, a bite of metal singing in the afternoon sun, a reminder of what’s hidden, what waits, what sleeps in the heart among even the best intentions long after we’re supposed to be gone.