Three Poems for Labor Day

The artisan as a youth; the artisan as master of his craft; the artisan and his dream.

Restoration by John Barr image

Hunting For A Tool

I stand by the basement shelves
breathing the odor of the mouse who died
of love for cardboard, powders or tar.
Here is sandpaper with its bite of wood,
bottles with labels telling what to do.
No carpenter, I go to the bins below.

Early TV's, radios built like chapels,
vacuum tubes with silvered skulls.
My father accumulated in the dream
of hams: to tune the babble of frequencies–
Augustan time checks ... the BBC–
to make Marconi's leap
and travel in the company of light.

I relish the clean-cut teeth of gears,
a rheostat devoid of ohms.
A magnet feeling steel still pulls.
A lump of lead still wraps the hand
around itself, expressing heft.
Still waiting for its proper use,
a light bulb rattles its tungsten tongue.

by John Barr


She likes the long maple workbench, the tools
and stickered boards. She likes to watch a flitch
re-sawn, opened, and matched up with its mate
to read as if a book. She likes the rules, squares,
and marking knives, the sliding bevel gauge,
the trammel points and templates of French curves,
the lines they make for chisels, shaves, and saws.
She likes the hand-stitched rasp, the way its teeth
perfect a shape; the linseed oil and turpentine,
coat after coat, and how the pumice rubs
a luster that invites an eye to look,
a hand to linger. She likes the finished piece
placed in its place, to have it seen, as if
to speak of what it means to be complete.

by Jim Haines

Measure, A Review of Formal Poetry, Volume XI Issue 2, 2016
Reprinted with permission of the poet.


I love to recover the quality
of things in decline.
To scour stone, scale paint from brick,
to compel, with wire brush,
the flourish wrought by iron.
To refinish wood, solving for
forgotten grain.
To give, by weeding our stone wall
back its dignity.
To left and right the borders of our lot,
to square the corners of our keep.

I have even dreamed: pushing a pushcart,
I stop anywhere and start
doing what needs to be done.
The first building takes time,
replacing windows, curing the roof.
I know compromises must be made
and make none, a floor at a time.

I work along an interstate
a century after Johnny Appleseed.
A modest people makes me chief.
(They, too, enjoy the hazy shine
of finished work by last light.)
Storm drains relieved, brick walks relaid,
a heritage of dust and wrappers
is renounced. The square square,
trim trim, the town for once
is like an artist's conception of the town.

by John Barr


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