Kin

I saw the end of my line


Incised on a bark-bare branch


A secret I couldn’t keep from myself


The knowledge of a storm flash – strike


A corkscrew cleft on a limb – now leaf bereft

No canopy to obscure a fledgling nest

From the hawk – the crow – the warm summer rain

No nourishing gift to drop as fertile mast

From this outstretched withering winter-gray arm

No seed by seed release from fingertip tendrils

To forest furrows

To the moss-rimmed dish of the swollen doe

This limb soon to break under its own weight

To snap at its rotten knot

Through a communion of laws

Weakened by the drilling of sightless worms

The press of ice and snow

And the indifferent kiss of the wind –

To fall and to affect a muted rising

In the tinder-kindled smoldering of an earthen hearth

In sympathy with its host through slow--


Lonesome decay

New door – Old Frame

You came into my life – my name

Like a new door in this old frame

Where the lintel shrugged and the pine floor heaved

Where the panels cracked and the hinges grieved

Where the doorknob spun and the lock refused

Where the casing strained and the bull’s-eyes mused

Where the winter wind past the threshold blew

Where the brass into the paint withdrew

You came into my life – my name

Like a new door in this old frame.


You came into my life – my eyes

Would build a world beneath your skies

With aching arms and callused hands

That felled the wood and cleared the land

With a backbone built to brace a beam

With a brain equipped to form a dream

With a heart that craved the heat of home

With a mind grown tired of being alone

You came into my life – my eyes

Would build a world beneath your skies


They came into our lives – our hands

Would hold them – as an Elm tree stands

Within its mighty limbs – a nest

With shells to warming feathers press’t

The love and shelter we’d provide

Through sweat and labor – pain and pride

We have a reason – to exist – and strive

To watch them as we grow and thrive

They came into our lives – our hands

Would hold them as an Elm tree stands


You came into my life – my name

Like a new door in this old frame

Carpenter’s Answer

As a boy I would sit in a tree by a stream

Pretending the cherries were stars in my dream

And I was the Master on far-away seas

On the deck of my ship in a tropic night breeze.

But there came a day when that tree felt the axe,

And there was that stream that my youth could not pass.

I gave up the sea for the family trade

The hammer and nail – the bit and the blade.

My father bequeathed me his knowledge and name

He was his own man – will I be the same?

What shall I make now I’m given these tools-

Should I build me a bridge – with hammer and rule?

Will I then cross that stream to the opposite side -

Fording stream after stream with the sun as a guide?

Will I make that far seaport while day is still young

Will I be aboard when the lanterns are hung?

Or will I search in these fields for my foundation stone

Would contentment be found in what others have known?

Would I build me a house bound by water and wood

Mortised and tenoned as post and beam should?

Plaster and lathe and colonial shakes

Yellow pine floors - cut nailed to the face?

Would I find me a woman whom I could lay claim to

And then build us a child that we’d pin our name to?

Could I build us a hope and a dream wrought in rhyme

And set it to music in the happiest time

Then dance to that tune with my woman and son

In my heart, in my arms, once the deed had been done?

Would I build me a gate to my white picket yard-

With a swing on a limb and a Collie on guard?

Would the universe bloom within my cherry tree

For my son in the way that it once did for me?

And once I’ve carved out a world from this spherical stone

Which spins in the ether – its substance unknown

Can I live with the thought that I never will touch

What is sacred to drifters and dreamers and such?

And would a day ever pass – that I would not ache

For the sea – once I’d built my home on this lake?

Then I see that boy on a swing – and my wife…

I take a deep breath and say: “This is my life”.

Homeless


The child I was –

Would he know me

Now – as I raise this skeleton house frame

From foundation

Affixing flesh to wooden ribs

Imparting – with each hammer stroke –

Small flakes of my own soul?

Would he know me still

As I unroll my tape

And mark each raw stud and rafter –

Each piece of moulding

Easing the saw down

As I have – so often – done?

Will he remember the first time

And remind me of that original

Merging of matter – spirit

The drawing – the staging – the execution –

The secret inner survey...

And the silent walking away...?

Will he remind me that he had this life in mind

That this was to be the measure of me?

Had the wondering child in me

Chosen for his wandering self

A labor that leaves

Fragments of its homeward self

In the fixed nests of others-

Warm in winter

Dry in rain –

Sheltered from the summer sun

And wind-swept dust of drought?

Had I been early built –

To build

Houses –

To house

The homeless pieces of me?











Notes From An Underground Carpenter


Early mornings stagger

Into late evenings

Consuming entire weekends

When things don’t go according to plan…

Which is often –

The weather plays with me

The phone rings: Someone can’t make it in

The phone rings: Your order will be delayed

The silent chaos that lurks

Behind an innocent looking wall

Or ceiling – or floor

But you have to look – You can’t not look

You’ve got to tear it out –play it out

Carry to the extreme that

Which would pass with half the effort

Installing an eat-in kitchen

The center of their home – their universe

Their not-so-subtle reminders

Of the “inconvenience” – the “expectation”…

But often that’s the nature of the game

Create order out of chaos without true reward

Sacred out of profane without false faith…

I shouldn’t let it bother me so

Yet, strangely – I think to myself – how fortunate

That I live alone – that I don’t hear

Complaints and demands when I come home:

“Why am I always late – always away – always…distant?

I’ve spent so much time

Working on the houses of others

That I neglected

To build a home of my own –

That circle may never be complete

That moon shades shy of full and on the wane

And the last thing I want to see when I get home

Is another project...


I think of this now

Over breakfast, in my basement apartment

As the silence is punctuated

By heels on the brick sidewalk –

Passersby like the rush of a river

Flowing to some mystical sea

Their inconvenience – their expectation!

Blessed as I am with the wealth of few wants…

How fortunate – I – am!

Yet the foundation of my freedom cracks

And the cold damp mist of reality seeps in

Ever a renter – never an owner

Still internally hopeful for an external ideal

While I witness the graying shift to my youthful calculus

A man born free but everywhere chains

A slave to my own standards –

What I’m going to be – I already am…

How could it be otherwise?

A man has to do something

Be good for something – at something

Accepting his role in the cultural drama

The Social Contract

Aligning himself with the forces of imperative

Yet aware that it comes with a price


But as the day slips not so quietly into night

The precision and purpose of the work

Narrows my focus to a laser-like point

No distractions but the draftsman’s visions-

Abstractions into hard angles

No dreams but the dance of hands over wood

The dust of creation in the air

No sound but the drone of hammers and saws


Punctuated by the passing of heels on the pavement...

Too Slow for Demolition

These days

I still do a bit of the demo work

Though I tell myself I’ve paid my dues

That I prefer construction to destruction –

Reminding myself that most of what I know

About putting things together

I learned by taking things apart.


Truth is…I’m just too slow to make it pay.


And while I complain, saying:

Who needs all that plaster dust in the face…

The chaos…

The scramble to get it down and get it gone…?


I still find myself wading into that mess.


Taking my time

I erase the work

Of those who came before me –

All the detail and sweat

By nameless men –

With their crude tools

And materials I still can’t identify.

Men who’d be dumbstruck to see

The tools I’ll soon be setting up.


I see their spirit in the chalk-white dust

I feel their life force vibrating in each cut nail I pull –

And their hard learned lessons

And subtle chiding through the endless splinters

That come from that gnarly lath.

It all ends up in the truck.


And as if facing one of a pair of opposing mirrors

Looking at once ahead and behind me

Seeing an endless past and future stream –

No trick of light – no mere illusion

I can see them all on down the line

From the Colonial post and beam man

To the very one

Who’ll someday strip

My own work from this job.

Where will I be then…?

Will I still be…then…?

Or will I have become just another half-heard voice

Murmuring between these rafters and studs?


It’s the movement of time

The skill of past carpenters

And the stories in voices that flow through a stream of generations:

(When heard by the pure of heart)

Voices that thunder like Brahman

Within and without these plastered walls and ceilings

That light my eyes and guide my hands.


No, I don’t make a very good demo man.

I’m just too slow....

I owe them that much

Annie on the Stairs


These pine stairs

Were once an inch thick

Now – in places – they’re about half of that

How they held up –I’ll never understand

At first sight – I held my breath…

     But looks can be deceiving – I knew they’d outlast me.

Annie was always after me to replace them, saying –

“But, Isn’t that what you do?”

“Yes” I’d say, then quickly change the subject

And she soon gave up her asking

     How could I explain?

They were in rough shape when we bought this place

We were so young – and this house so old

And after a hard day on the job – in the heat

The dust and the noise – learning the ropes

On icy staging – in the wind –

With the snow-covered ground so far below…

     My fingers remember it all

After chores – and dinner with Annie

I’d hit those stairs and hear those familiar creaks and groans-

Each stair had its own pitch and tone

Like old pine piano keys on a world-weary board

I’d look forward to those sounds

Because I knew we made it through another hard day.

After cleaning up – I’d lie in bed – reading

Or thinking about the bills – or about time

And what an older version of us would be like.

Then – I’d hear Annie on those old stairs

Playing her own sweet melody

     I knew that the door would soon be opening

     And that I’d be putting to bed those old cares.  

The kids came and grew

And stair music went from hesitant –

To playful and raucous

And more than once to anger

Yet…at the end of the day

I’d hear Annie on the stairs…

And on those later-than-curfew high school nights

When they thought I couldn’t hear

It was that safe-at-home-at-last-music

That cut through my frustrations-my fear

     And that’s when I knew Annie knew

The kids are since gone – the stairs

Are still holding up (mostly)

Every so often I tamp down a restless nail or two

A battle I know I’ll soon lose

     On these long winter nights

When I feel as old as this house

I know I’ll be leaving that fight for the next guy

Just as long as I hear Annie on the stairshere.

I Fear I Am Becoming What I Do

A one who plots voiceless angles

And outer dimensions

Who engages in silent negotiation

With plaster and wood – stress and load

Whose hands reach in dull – blunt caress

Who seduces sexless shapes into electric symmetry

In drafty – unheated assignation


Sawdust coats my tongue and throat

The act of swallowing replaces – one by one –

My bones with wood


I fear I am becoming what I do


I’m loosing the ability to speak

On subjects in the liberal arts – culture

Phrases not prefaced by inches and angles

Are stalked and killed by inattention

As waves of form and function

Co-opt my inner voice

My lover punishes me with long sentences


I exhale fine silt of wood and chalk

A breath of cosmic motes that hangs a moment

As swirling particles of planetary dust and stars

That slowly settles while dancing

In shafts of sunlight – slanting

Through newly installed windows

I fear I am becoming what I do


Framing endless walls – each stud

Yet another bar or stone

In the Berlin Wall of my life

Confined – neither hunter nor hunted

While poets and priests – seekers and sages

Flow in and out of furnished rooms

Through doorways leading to ever – somewhere – else

My hands are at war with the rough bars

Each splinter an opiate needle

To anesthetize a fleeting dream

My kind lover plies me with wine

While she operates by candlelight


In the course of each day

My fingertips are worn anonymous smooth

Through repetitive labors I give birth

To my inward self-

Sweat and blood droplets – drip and seep

Into sawdust furrows – where they commingle

And germinate – then ripen in silent darkness

I arrive in the morning to my freshly reaped form


I have become my own stamen and pistil

Pollen and seed – in cold orbit

Circling my own nucleus

Each day a degree more competent

And a generation – more – inbred

I fear I am becoming what I do


The whir of saws and din of drills

Follows me into hushed rooms

As mosquitoes and gnats – drowning out my lover’s sighs

They invade the private spaces of my mind

Finding their way thorough screens and netting

To swarm about my ears

Silenced only by the drone of television

And the Niagara roar of whiskey


Entering houses – cafés – theatres

At first not addressing those mingling interacting forms

Or anticipating the projected action on silver – screen

My lover knowingly squeezes my hand – and waits-

While the levels and plumbs of my mind

Follow my eyes and calculate

The incidence of wall meeting ceiling

Or detect the flaws in the joining

Of sections of Crown Moulding…



I fear I am becoming what I do

Victoria

I have walked in Victorian beauty

And leveled desperate things

Re-framed clouds and staggered horizons

While watching my mood's rustling wings


To a song or a sigh – this house rises

Birch lines the path to the stream

Each room infused with fragrance

Each heaviness borne by a beam


With the gentle strength of an Atlas

I trace the lines of my spine to a post

To roof-slate and clap-siding held ransom

In this attic my youth lives as ghost


We receive what we're built to receive

Buttressed winds – weathered snows – sheltered...god?

Yet, my walls are porous to nature

In sympathy with my soul's lightening rod


Its larder my fuel – wood fire my heat

Within books I melt in my chair

By candlelight read of the ancients

By starlight stray far from my lair


Old for the old – new for the new

A reference you serve to my sight

The stream's rushing sounds – the birches convey –

I pace the widow's walk on lone winter nights


I work my trade from the outside – in

While the shell will sustain as it must

Though time fades the paint and rain rots the sills

And nails write my history in rust


My sashes still blaze with earlier east

Yet in darkness the panes to the west...

Shadows inform my direction

Time's hammer stroke never at rest


There will be no vast restoration

A challenge to simply maintain...

Block plane to doors slightly settled

And oil to a squeaking refrain


Have I pulled down my stairs to the moon – far too early

And angled them more towards the stream?

And can I still savor those earlier visits

On clear nights with those caressing beams?


As if sheltering under a scented bough

I have merely borrowed these boards

The embrace of needles and branches

The poorest of men can afford


The stream will whisper and beckon

As art, from the inner life flowers

A house allows comfort and warmth

As my minutes find solace in hours


And not to consume my hours for wages – for bread

Nor draw blood as I settle my pay

Have a life that a rich man would sigh for

Beauty at the end of the day

The Tradesman’s Flame

Had it flared another moment more

Had the bellows wind not ceased to blow

It would have been a total loss

I would have learned – then – to let go


But the alarm went out too fast and loud

As water streamed from sources strong –

When the smoke had cleared -I could not mourn

I could not weep – nor move along


We’d worked that year from frame to paint

With money scarce – we’d slave for wage

Each room a chapter of our lives

Each post and plank a living page


True neighbors came with salt and bread

And wine for all who gathered there

To bless – to spice – our humble home

With joy to toast our hard earned fare


We shared the experience of toil

Of boards and nails in tender weaving

Walls and roof to face the weather

And through it all – never missed the meaning


But the – enemies of love conspired

And the day soon came when I would be

Alone – without her winsome smile –

In that shelter of her memory


By a candle on the window sill

I sat in wait for time to heal

The curtain blew as if to wave

It could not heal what was no longer here


And then the flames – with the curtain – danced

As the complicit wind began to blow

It should have been a total loss

And I – like incense - free to go


Yet it stood there singed and damp and nude

As if somehow aware to know

That life feeds off its tender past

As flames – which lick dry tinder – glow

Then month inched into lonely month

And I – the tradesman – medic healed

The shell of what was nearly lost

While the spirit of the healer knelt


But these walls are not those walls where hung

Those portraits from that other time

These windows never braced the chill

Nor stairs in passion did we climb


These floors have never known our dance

These drapes weren’t closed to prying eyes

These furnishings not graced those rooms

This bright façade a vain disguise


It’s all brand-new – each post and plank

Since candle, drape and wind conspired

To strip me of the artifacts

That her love and labor had inspired


All that remains is the window view

And the path to the dooryard gate

To the road that ever leads somewhere

Or returns one home who staggers late


Then it came to me one morning rise

As the light streamed through the window panes

That the breeze that fed those cleansing flames

Had a soothing voice – familiar name


It did not whisper “Fare thee well”

Nor promise living free from care

But to remind me of the mystery

And that I – like wind – must forward fare


Had it flared another minute more

Had that knowing wind not ceased to blow

It would have been a total loss…

For where – then – would I go?

The Woodwright

The Woodwright dreams –

Sleeps fast behind his eyes

In his faded workshop

Where tools speak in tongues – of dim origins – concepts

Dying languages the modern world neglects


The joiner's mallet drums his brain

Neither proud nor shy – but flush with

Wild and aging eyes that bore throughout his purpose

Like a sharpened bit in a brace –

Belt-driven blades that rip and crosscut

Lengths of boards as familiar as his fingers and beard


He wakes to salty tears and pillow sweat

In a house he shares with silenced lives in photographs

As the early rising eastern glow

Punishes the bedroom blinds...

Stiff broad fingers – chisel-split and splintered

Navigate the clothes pile on the chair

To rescue jeans and flannel

And adjust a striped suspender – lace a boot


Coffee perked and bacon from the stove

Revive the scents that live within his walls –

Replace the suet for the blue jays on the rail –

Drop apple scraps and potato peelings on the frozen ground.

Yet there is a softer peace that sleeps –

Upon the worn wood kitchen floor

On a throw rug – with edges unfringed by the fraying broom...

A calm – familiar breathing carries over to his head

From a heart and lungs as old as his

In years defined by dry-boned reckoning...


Stirring – the source of the breathing rises and shakes

Then leans on towards the morning routine door


Exchanging the workshop in his mind –

The soft – worn – fabrics and fogs

For a woodland path that leads to a rise by an ice-choked river

And a board and batten shop

Hours empty of warmth and of light while he slept –

Its sill – sits on posts and river stones

Fastened to the earth with gnarly vines –

And dined upon by lichens and moss

Built by the strong sure hands of a man –

Yet to return to the earth and make fertile the land.

Its frost-rimmed windows awaken to the sun

As he ignites his daily kindling

Adds logs from the rusted cross-buck –

The logs now – narrower

And easier to grip and split with tired hands

Yet too quickly consumed by the flame...


Scattered in the wood box – remnants of the old blue rowboat

That came to its end on November rocks

When a right hand oar slipped from an oarlock...

Cut to pieces for the fire – lest it suffer the slow sad burn of decay...

The hearth stones – spattered with the embers of old work past

Soon swept into a metal bin

The cast iron stove heat rises – stirs the fragrant air

As the young sun filters through ancient sawdust motes

Prism clouds of mahogany – walnut and cherry – yellow pine and cedar

That descend to the depths of the workroom floor

From webs on rough sawn rafters and beams –

Settling in the ache of age on the bench top – worn smooth by use...

                                       ----------


Here – he builds birdhouses – bat houses – turns finials and bowls

To give purpose to time that has no meaning

To moving 'round the center as motes 'round the stove

...As turnings on a lathe

To plumb a ridge post that is forever leaning


He cuts mouldings convex and concave

In a flurry of knives and blades

The aromatic chips and shavings he saves

...To help those remember what was lost

As senses and memory fades


As ice and snow motes blanket the river

And fields – with Winter preparing

To yield to the Spring and the endless giver

...Laying plans for a new river work boat

To launch – when the musty old workroom is airing


On the river he'd rowed upstream – returning

Til again – and once more – ceased to matter

To stoke a wood stove that his workdays kept burning

...His seasons of sawing and splitting

The cost bound to the former –

Remained the unknowable latter


He'll glide on the white river – downstream

On the freshet the spring thaw provides

He'll wake in the morn to a new dream

To his familiar – hound – breathing

An adventure his spirit abides