With all their various tick-tockings, it’s like listening
to a hundred leaky faucets fill
their porcelain wash basins until they spill over on the hour
in a cascade of cable-wound
triple chimes. Each clock telling a different time, I feel
like Einstein, or the March Hare
dipping his friend’s stopped pocket watch in a cup of tea.
Time doesn’t matter
to the Mad Hatter & Co. It’s easy to kill an hour or two
and forget my afternoon
appointment in this room where all times are more or less true.
reads the motto on a pinch-waist grandfather clock
whose brass lyre pendulum
hypnotizes me for a moment so I see my mother warning me
not to procrastinate
over problems in long division or fractions,
which I haven’t mastered
yet, or ever—my mother turned overnight from the girl
in her wedding picture,
spit curls and a sassy don’t-you-dare-kiss-me pout of a mouth,
to a seventy-year-old
woman with one breast left. Her face is crackle-glaze porcelain
late Ming Dynasty.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “Everything always turns out for the best.”
A cuckoo clock chimes
from the wall. Its four Tyrolean hand-painted peasants,
two miniature couples,
revolve to a snatch of a waltz as the cuckoo comes out
of her nest and nods
to each chime. Under their bell jars, the anniversary clocks
maintain the monotonous
back and forth of their four brass balls. “They used to be wound
once a year
and were unreliable,” the shop owner tells me. “Now, of course,
and never need winding.” They’re guaranteed to last a lifetime,
never ‘to quiver
out of Decimals—into Degreeless Noon—’ To think that the delicate
intermeshings of cogwheels
in the Swiss works of a gilded rococo cuckoo clock by Bulova,
with a tolerance
of a few micromillimeters, will outlast my mother
and, probably, me
is ridiculous, and comforting. The hour hand will keep creeping
over the dial
of days, on which, although we do not see it,
the snow melting off
a roof will trickle and tick down into a waterfall
honed to the cold blue fire of unclouded diamond.
Everything will continue,
almost the same. The sky with its eumulous Rorschachs.
The trampled confetti
of dogwood petals scattered on the sidewalk after the rain’s
parade goes past,
twirling its batons of lightning. All the ecstasies
of spray paint
on the railway trestle, I LOVE JACK
or MARY GIVES GOOD HEAD,
which the highway department paints over once a year.
Even the music boxes
which I wind to hear the thirty-six-note rolls of “Für Elise,”
or Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” will keep playing their sentimental
tunes. The porcelain
ballerina pirouettes on her pedestal to the strains
of “Glair de Lune,”
while around and around go the wooden riderless horses
of a candy-cane-striped
carousel to “Love Me Tender, Love Me True” inside
a glass ball
which I shake to make it snow. Such kitsch is wonderfully
incorrigible. All the different
melodies crisscross to the counterpoint of a hundred clocks
ticking and chiming.
What a weird cacophony I get, so artificial it’s almost
A man with a bright orange hunter’s cap comes into the shop
to pick up his mother’s
grandfather clock, which her ex-husband shot “in the face” with a. 33
because she liked it.
The owner has repaired the works and straightened out the minute
hand, but the bullet hole
is still there between three and four o’clock.
”She didn’t want it
fixed completely. She wanted the story.” That’s it!
We want the story
of what we can’t keep, and we want to smile a little
while we embellish it for
whoever will listen, strangers, nobody, ourselves.
The shop owner
starts telling me about the one-armed clock-maker who taught him
how to take apart
a watch and put it back together blindfold, who plays
the church organ, Bach preludes he’s rearranged for one hand
so no one hears
his missing arm. I tell him I want to write a poem about his shop.
”Whoever likes my shop
likes me,” he says. “Send me a copy when you’re done.”
I tell him he’ll be waiting
years. As I go out the door, I see the sign I didn’t notice
when Icame in:
Welcome Hardings’ Clocks & Music Boxes. Outside, it’s alternating
rain and sleet. Welcome,
I say to myself. Welcome rain. Welcome mud. Welcome the dead grass
crocus buds under slushy March snow. Welcome coming in and welcome going out.