Saturday, May 27, 2006


While standing outside, smoking a cigarette (there, I’ve admitted that I still cling to this filthy habit), I noticed that, from my perspective on our front porch, the side of the house next door looks remarkably like a smiling man with a three corner hat, complete with feather. I had thought, for a moment, that this would be a remarkable way to introduce an in-depth discussion of Hart Crane because, according to the introduction in the most recent publication of The Bridge, he had a remarkable facility for seeing things in terms of something else. And there, in essence, we have a virtual paradigm of the metaphoric mind at work.

Alas, I’m not entirely sure what that last sentence means and I’d rather not write about yet another modernist poet and reveal how deeply indebted my own thinking is to early 20th-century poetry.

Clearly, it’s late. I’ve spent much of the day searching and longing for the kind of quietude that has now settled over my house. Michelle’s family—with the exception of our two nephews—are scattered about the house, each processing his or her own dreams. They arrived around 9:30 in time for a meal of pasta and sausage that my wife prepared despite the distractions of television, her father, and the dogs.

Since my routine was disturbed by Memorial Day activities of cleaning and hosting, I felt a bit lost earlier in the day, even as I sat inside under a fan, trying to convince myself to plunge—like a stone—into the icy depths of another writing project that had, ahem, grown cold. Unfortunately, this afternoon I seemed more palatable to the diversions of the Internet, television, and intermittent canine violence. For some reason, instead of sitting myself down, playing an album by some band or other, and frittering away at the keyboard until the words made sense, I grabbed a small wooden box that Michelle had bought long ago to use as storage on a desk and walked outside to stain it. I stood on the back porch for almost an hour, applying slow, considered brushstrokes along the grain of the soft wood with an oak-colored stain.

The finished product—now to my left on my desk—looks lovely. In fact, it matches the shades of my desk precisely and seems, shockingly enough, to fit seamlessly with the decor of my office.

Perhaps, in retrospect, it was a bit of fool’s errand to work on this small piece of craftsmanship with dovetail joints that highlight an inspired blending of hard and soft woods. After all, morning is approaching quickly, and I’ve stayed awake well past visiting with in-laws and the requisite hour or so on the couch worshipping our television.

More, the stain I’ve applied is uneven in places, and to my chagrin, as I worked on the drawers of this square foot storage container, I dropped one into the flower bed by the side of our house, smudging the still-wet stain with dark streaks of topsoil. Now, the piece could use a light sanding. Worse, I started that small project without realizing that there isn’t a single drop of turpentine in the house and without considering that it might be best for me to don a pair of latex gloves. Consequently, I spent the next two hours worrying over the splotches of sticky wood stain that had congealed to my fingers. I scrubbed and scrubbed with dish soap and hand soap before finally pealing the congealed stain from my raw, red hands.

Nevertheless, I don’t think I could have chosen a better way to spend a few hours this afternoon. Now, I have an object on my desk that can summon feelings of pride. I have experience enough to change the way I approach another project with paint or stain. I had the opportunity to concentrate solely on one task.

Maybe, just maybe, I found a small taste of the wonder at human achievement that suffuses Hart Crane’s epic poem. Granted, this little accessory is nothing like the Brooklyn Bridge, but I imagine dear Hart could see the similarities. And maybe, he could see how such a project is a kind of poetry unto itself. Line after line. Backwards and forwards. Concentration on each movement. Unafraid to get your hands a tad bit dirty.


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