One of Dad’s (Lester E. Potts, Jr.) earliest memories was of pulling a crosscut saw with his father.  “He wore me out on that old saw,” he used to say, speaking of his dad. 

Lester’s last painting, created in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, was of a saw.  Bereft of language at the time of its creation, when asked if the image depicted a saw, Lester simply cried.

Those of us who knew him look upon the saw as a self portrait of sorts, an image of steely tenacity, albeit with handles worn off from a life of selfless giving.

Lester Potts Jr The Saw

The last painting of Alzheimer’s artist Lester E. Potts, Jr.

Those who love him,

who call him Bubba, Papa, Les;

who knew the richness of his white oak heart

before life’s rings were laid

can tell that this last picture is a saw,

and they know why.


He spoke of it to me

whenever two were needed for a task,

and tales of pushing, pulling,

giving, taking teamwork between man and boy

goaded little hands to help.



Lester E. Potts, Jr. and his father, Lester, Sr. in 1930

Strength, innate to him,

was given meaning and a name

across its blade, where as a son

he’d first sensed power and endurance

in his father’s arms.

“He wore me out on that old saw,”

was often said submissively.

Like most sons, he felt himself

a lesser man than Dad.


How tragic, yet how poignant

one man’s time comes down to this:

a jagged, worn and lifeless print;

aphasic, meaningless to most,

but an icon to the ones

who know his oaken core.


Its crooked teeth bespeak tenacity,

a stubborn will to persevere

even as life’s gnarly knots distort and mire.

With labor to be done

one mustn’t let a sappy vice

restrict the motion of one’s steel.



The Potts sawmill, around 1930, with Lester E. Potts, Sr. in the front center in overalls

Imagined scent of sawdust

piling up like snow beneath metallic skies

might penetrate his fog-bound world,

low beams from the old log truck

leading to a happy place

that smells like home.


His hands,

now swollen and contused,

still long to lend themselves

to all who need their skill and strength.


Sadly, though,

there’re no handles left to hold,

just worn wood longings of a white oak heart

beneath the ringed restraints

dementia tightens fast.


Through murky mists

he strains expectantly to see

his father’s face, no longer there,

and feel the tug of steely arms

which first embodied might.


When looking on the crosscut saw

one notices a missing end.

Perhaps his eyes misjudged

and drew onto another page,

a scrap discarded

like a stubby hardwood log,

yet of itself, an artful work of hand.


In deepest spaces of the soul

I know this theory won’t suffice.

For amidst fragments of a broken mind,

longings of a wandering heart,

and comforts of a loving God

the undone portion takes its shape:


a handle clasped by nail-scarred palms,

familiar, strong, and true,

which can’t be painted, only felt

in pushing, pulling, giving, taking teamwork

between friends.


So the saw remains,

its image speaking for the one

whose severed sentences stack up

like stumpy syllables upon a sawdust bed.

The sum of what it says is this:



Lester E. Potts, Jr., 1947







2 thoughts on “THE CROSSCUT SAW

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