Ode to a Measuring Tape

This entry is part 14 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

Tape that doesn’t stick, reliable as the pronouncements of some close-lipped neighbor who never goes beyond the corner of the block. Tape that bends to follow the flank of a fish. Vacuuming dried begonia petals from a window ledge, I accidentally suck up a snail shell, one of three I’d had on display. It rattles briefly down the long hose & is gone. Shall I open the Shop-Vac’s fat belly & dig for it in the slag heap of dust & dead beetles? No, I’ll look for another. Snails in the woods are subject to continual Rapture — their empty shells are legion. Ditto for the ladybugs that litter every corner now that winter is past.

In an old house like this, nothing is square. The yellow blade of the contractor’s measuring tape was out of its case more often than it was in, checking the height of the ceiling every few feet. Either come in or stay outside, our exasperated parents used to tell us. On rainy days we’d spiral from the basement to the attic, leaving half-finished sketches to go try on costumes from a huge carton of old clothes.

Tape that doesn’t stick, like the tongue of snake. I had a friend in grade school who particularly enjoyed this game of dress-up. We’d switch between oversized suits & oversized gowns without a second thought. One time we even dressed as a newlywed couple & paraded downstairs to show my mom. I don’t recall her sharing our enthusiasm. As far as I was concerned, it was adulthood we were parodying, not gender roles per se. We laughed to think what kind of fop such clothes would actually fit. But now I can’t fit into my own jeans from five years ago, & as for my erstwhile friend, some neighbor said he came out of the closet as a homosexual & moved to Florida with his lover, not necessarily in that order. I know if I were gay, I’d leave this area and never look back.

Tape that doesn’t stick. Yesterday morning I wrote 25 lines, dense with slant rhymes & alliteration, & in the evening I retracted them & left just two words on the page, a fragment of an ode:

Steel
snail.

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14 Comments


  1. Love this, Dave. Measuring tapes are the most fascinating tools; have you seen kids play with them? We went through years of house renovating and using tools of which tapes provided the most fun, and the most memories.


  2. You’re right. Maybe that’s what prompted the childhood memories.


  3. I like the way their own retractions throw them, like a politician’s should.

  4. beth

    Just dug one out of my sewing box, to measure column inches in a newspaper…I like your two word reduction, but like the prose musings and dress-up story even better.


  5. As a compulsive rewriter and self-editor, I understand the process of removing surplus words. Steel
    Snail
    is a two word poem. I can’t think of any others but now will put my mind to it.


  6. Interesting. First of all, are the five “Possibly Related Posts” intended as a poem? Really:

    Greek
    Via positiva: Hindu version
    To greet the quietness
    Becoming grass
    Plank

    It’s all there, including Alexander’s conquest of Persia.

    If you were gay is probably like if Obama were white. But I want to know where you’d go, not just that you’d leave there. What does a guy do when he’d really love to live in a rural place with the leisure to blog, and can’t afford Carmel or Nantucket? Where would YOU go if, for whatever reason, expelled from there?

    Love “Steel/snail” A poe-eme?

  7. sarah b

    what I liked best about this was the escape from the typical “ode” form, and the quiet way you got me to think about a tape measure as a steel snail. You are brilliant at making these connections.


  8. Thanks for the comments, y’all. I wasn’t sure that anyone would take the two-word reduction seriously; I’m not sure that I do myself. I’m generally not crazy about this kind of textual self-reflexivity, but I spose that’s what drove the composition of the rest: an urge to give it resonance a bit beyond what it probably deserves. (Hey, whatever works, right?)

    Speaking of undeserved things: Jarrett, you’re right, I don’t have a whole lot of justification for saying that. A very idle speculation on my part! Committed gay couples who choose to live in the rural Bible belt and other such inhospitable areas get my full respect. (And I like to think I have a thick skin!) Maybe over time this kind of integration will change attitudes? We can always hope.


  9. Oh, hi, Sarah – You snuck in there while I was writing my own comment. Glad you liked.

    I also wanted to add a thanks to Jarrett for pointing out the wholly serendipitous arrangement of Possibly Related Post titles. Definitely related, I’d say! (I’m particularly impressed that the algorithm came up with “Plank.” This plugin totally kicks the ass of the lame Sphere-based add-on, also called Possibly Related Posts, that was introduced last week to much consternation as an opt-out feature at WordPress.com.)

  10. Joan

    The neat thing about the story is that it’s a metaphor for the poem. First the tape measure saga expands and tries out different placements as all tape measures must and then at the end it’s reeled neatly into a tidy minimalist package poem. I liked both very much.


  11. Joan – Glad that worked for you. I was trying to avoid hitting people over the head with it, without being totally obscure — the writer’s ever-present dilemma.

    For what it’s worth, the composition as a whole is based loosely on the haibun form.


  12. What makes a measuring tape an interesting conversation piece is that it is so versatile. In some sense it is kind of a toy for children, a world class useful device for professional carpenters/builders, and a design marvel. Whoever first invented this tool was an absolute genius- I know we take it for granted but come on, the measuring tape is great.

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