A poem about my dad & me, our different professions and ways of being in the world. I guess it gets at my struggle both to live up to him, and struggle against him-that universal archetypal drama. My dad worked at a factory* that made engine component parts for most of his working life, which put a roof over my head and food on the table. On Sunday’s too he got up early, “What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?”**
Thank you dad for everything.
By the factory clock he walked
in mustache, flannel, Levi’s jeans
to cut & measure engine parts
and perhaps himself it seemed
With that a man a living made,
his son am I in different trade
What labor can a father see
within a forest poet’s verse?
Do I lay my lines less shaped
than steel pistons driving force?
Are words less needed than the steel
to make the world’s wheels whirl?
Which is more—elusive words, or
the driving engine’s massive roar?
The car was first a dream of man
Before the iron hot was poured
No less the word that’s first in mind
Before it lands upon the page
To do whatever poems can do
To guage whatever words can guage
And so the valves they rise and fall
How well depends on how they’re cut:
Scent of oil, scent of ink
One of pitch, one of grease
One machine, the other mud
Both take their share of blood
Even Rilke’s father wanted
A son to be a civil clerk
An honest job with honest pay
But what if he had had his way?
No sonnets or the elegies
Crafted in his atalier
No letters on a poet’s plight
Or other gems that he would write
If ‘a fact is the sweetest dream
That labor knows’*** by his own hand
Then sweetest dream in poet’s mind
Becomes a fact by poet’s pen
If strained relations seem to be
Between the metered form & me
Between the father & his son
It’s because of how it’s seen
This world of facts, how it’s sung
To craft a final form or shape—
What tool of note can you name?
It takes as much of “be” as “do”
To make a poem come to you
Is a stanza much less a craft
Than an engine component part?
Does my meter measure less than
that which makes a motor start?
Is labor not paid, work at all?
And if not work, then what’s it called?
Can you eat a poem, make it tall
To live inside its flimsy walls?
The woods are where I live & walk
Set to quite a different clock
Yet in my factory daily dream
In mustache, flannel, Levi’s jeans
*Factory ultimately derives from Latin roots meaning Fact, maker, and to make, to do, to perform.
**What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?” Is from Robert Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays.
***the line ‘a fact is the sweetest dream
That labor knows’ is from Robert Frost’s Poem ‘Mowing’