Thursday, March 19, 2009

Joseph Millar: Tools


I was sixty days without a drink
working the back of the Howard Street store,
cleaning the tools my boss scavenged from basements
of tradesmen's widows all over the state.

I'd sort through the wrenches, boxes and crescents
from Stanley, Craftsman, and Utica Tool,
bright sockets from Snap-On
we could charge twice as much for.
I'd polish the wrecking bars with WD-40,
the claw hammers, jack planes and pliers,
then clean up the handsaws, old Disston Brothers
and the best, London Springs,
twisting the studs from the filigreed handle
and sanding away the resinous shell,
one stroke at a time,
from the wide steel blade.

I seldom looked out through the dusty panes
at the rubble of Howard Street's
plywood-scabbed storefronts. I stayed
in the back near the cracked tubs of solvent
whose gray vapors ghosted the air
and kept my eyes lowered, watching
the grinding wheel whirr in its armature,
cutting blue rust from the chisels and knives,
washing my knuckles in sparks.

--Joseph Millar, Fortune, copyright © 2007 by Eastern Washington University Press

This poem by Joseph Millar paints a vivid picture in my mind of a man in recovery, sixty days without a drink, washing his knuckles in sparks. I knew the scruffy neighborhood of Howard Street in San Francisco, the plywood-scabbed storefronts, the winos and worse who wandered there. (The street itself is these days undergoing a form of recovery.) I can see the old tools, sense their cold metal, take pleasure in their restoration while appreciating the labor involved and the fumes from the cracked tubs of solvent. I can hear the "whirr" of the grinding wheel and feel the tingle of the sparks.

Support this craftsman. "Tools" is from the book Fortune, and you can buy it here. At $18 for the entire book, that comes to 43 cents per poem. Those are flea market prices for quality craft.

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