Back to Issue Seventeen.

Making a Rabbet Plane in the Machine Shop on the Hill



I fish for angle iron in the scrap,
slag clotted along the seams
of all but one piece clean enough
to make it worth the work ahead.
I lock it in the vice, jaws closed
down with the rubber mallet’s
prodding, and the grinder whines on
in my hands, works the rusted
metal to a sheen, swirling Q’s
left in wake until I take the piece
to the belt and let the rough tongue
lick it smooth.  The whole
room smells hot, it
smells of origin, of soot, and
the band saw screeches as the blade
sinks through.  The shape
I want is marked on the metal
and what I can’t take out quickly
and with power must be worked
by hand.  A rat-tail file finds
the mouth of the almost-plane
and works a bevel smooth.  The blade
is an old file I’ve ground the teeth
off of.  I give it an edge
and it stays.  It gives me an edge,
the smell of the metal shop,
a cutting bitter scent that belongs
inside the earth.  I turn
the idea of the tool over in my hands.
That it works makes me want to work.
The work, it carves that want away.



I Have No Empire



to offer you,
my son, only the song

a fool travels with, on the back
of the wrong thought.

Forego the knife
in the pocket for a stone.

The only protection
from the inevitable

is patience.  What better
teacher than stone?

Carry the weight well
and you’ll hardly notice

how much the road
agrees with each step.

Son, the world erupts
and so grows.

When it cools,
and trust me, it does,

the crust is a tomb to the living,
though the dead call it womb.



In the Boatyard




there lives a weather vane            cooper salt green

pitched roof       above the racking hull
rafters & scaffolding        dirt floor under floor

of every shaving yet made from the work


the men oiled     worked   to a sheen in their heavy clothes

tattered as the wind        as the wind worked
over the dusty yard and who

was there to claim such derelict caskets    propped upon

jack stands          stripped and abandoned

with every kind of name for hope              or luck     or pleasure

lettered darkly on each transom


Matthew Nienow‘s first book, House of Water, will be released from Alice James Books in October 2016. His poems have appeared in two editions of Best New Poets (2007 and 2012), Beloit Poetry Journal, Crazyhorse, New England Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. A 2013 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellow, he has also received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He lives in Port Townsend, Washington with his wife and two sons, where he builds custom wooden paddle boards.

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