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The Carpenter


ISSUE:  Autumn 1978
From ashes I rebuild my grandfather’s house.
It is slow labor. Whatever is left
I must gather. My hip pockets bulge
with live coals the roof scattered like seed.
I hoist tangled wire onto my shoulders
and stumble forth, huffing and puffing,
to search the debris for a nail straight enough
to be hammered. As soon as I find it
I pound with conviction, but no skill.
I hold up my battered blue thumb to the sky
and I curse as magnificently
as my grandfather ever did, calling on
bird, beast, and cosmos to judge his incompetence.
Tears streak my dirty cheeks. Each day I quit
and each day I start over again,
using buckets of glue if I must, and
a patience I hardly knew I had inherited.

I have one window already aloft
in my grandmother’s kitchen. Above the remains
of her teacups and crockery, it frames the oak
sifting light through its branches like wheat. If the glass is cracked
I do not notice. By spring
I will see the big kettle secure
on the stove and the stove-pipe ascending.
The bread will rise endlessly. Butter will come
in the earthenware churn. Let the roof wait
for winter. My grandfather’s house always
was airy with a sly breeze and
the pig stink all night long in summer.
I slept under cracks where the winking rain
entered, so why should I mind
the bad weather? I work best when I take
my time, coaxing woolly worms into a tin can
and letting them go again, dreaming
the night sky unfolds like a blueprint I learn
to read. Sometimes I dawdle with scrap iron
and bed-springs until it is dawn, and I sing
unembarrassed the old ditties. Hey diddle-
diddle, I dance by the light of the moon
and feel lonely, already at home
here. I talk to the rubble. I swear
by the toil of my two clumsy hands I will

make of this junk-pile a dwelling place
yet. When I hammer the last nail straight
into the last sagging beam, I will
spit on the edge of my shirt and sit down
on a barrel to scrub my face clean before
I climb the rickety steps to the porch and knock
twice. I will not look my Sunday-best, but
I cannot wait forever. The hinges will creak
when I open the front door
and call out my grandfather’s name.
In the silence that answers
I step slowly over the threshold,
believing that each board supports me.
I stand in my grandfather’s house again.

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