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.
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.
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.
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.
now swollen and contused,
still long to lend themselves
to all who need their skill and strength.
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
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: