Odes to Tools

This series is now available in print form from Phoenicia Publishing. Scroll down to the end for posts about how that came to be.

This entry is part 1 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

Odes to Tools cover
Via Negativa has just given birth to its first all-analog offspring: Odes to Tools. The collection of 25 poems is now available through Amazon and from Phoenicia Publishing. Click through to read the catalog description and see a preview. Here’s an excerpt:

A great many poetry lovers already know and appreciate Dave’s writing, but […] Odes to Tools is also one of those subversive cross-over books, perfect as a gift for someone who loves tools but thinks they don’t like poetry. They’ll be surprised to find a poet who appreciates tools with his words in much the same way they take care of their own saws or planes: not wrapped in fancy fabric or elevated like sculptures, but held comfortably in the hands, thought about like friends, and cared for now and then with a little oil on a clean cloth.

The book is just $6.95, but if you’d like a signed copy, you’ll have to mail me a check or postal money order for U.S. $10.00. Send to: Dave Bonta, PO Box 68, Tyrone, PA 16686, USA. I have yet to put in a bulk order, so if you’re in a hurry, order it from the publisher or from Amazon (where you can get free shipping if you bundle it with other stuff).

I also recorded a free audio version of the book, just under half an hour long:

Download the mp3

This entry is part 2 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

wrench set

Better than all power tools
is the socket wrench:

its accommodating nature
its chrome-plated steel
its handling of torque.

It can make a complete revolution
from the smallest arc

& as if time could turn
in either direction
with the click of a lever

the past screwed down
the future loose

a spring-loaded finger
clicks against
the gearwheel’s teeth.

This entry is part 3 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

this is Sarah’s fault

Back when all angels were male,
the hammer was the first
perfect androgyne.

Mounted on a pegboard,
it still looks almost aerodynamic,
poor thing.

This is no claw, but a pair of legs
strong enough between them
to give birth to nails.

Or rails that forgot to run parallel,
converging on a vanishing point
that’s much too close:

the train’s stuck in station
& the hammer keeps trying to hop
on its one flat foot.

This entry is part 4 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

No longer walking
the straight & narrow,
no longer restricted to the harsh
amens of service,
now it’s your turn to be held still

for the sawing of some
effete bow, generations removed
from any kinship with arrows.
But you’re free!
And this song of yours

might otherwise
never have been heard.
You put your whole body
into it, still ascetic,
but now for the cause of art.

There’s a sweet spot, the street
musicians say, & they find it
in you. Where the heart might be,
systole & diastole in perfect balance,
if you were more than cartilage.

The pure tone floats up
through two octaves of rejoicing
at your deliverance
from lumber.
Or is this grief?

This entry is part 5 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

Eohippus of the truck family,
divergent offspring
of wheelbarrows,
what led the hand truck
to stand on its head
& press its nose to the ground?
What could it possibly
have learned from the worm
& the tons of dirt
that pass through
a worm’s stomach?
How to let fall, perhaps,
boneless as hope.
How to take its time.
Stack truck,
sack truck,
bag barrow,
trolley,
it tips backward with alacrity,
trusting in vinyl grips
& ball bearings.
Its faith moves refrigerators.
Like a rowboat, it makes
its pilot also
face away from
the direction they’re going:
blind faith must be shared
in order to work.
The job over,
I return the hand truck
to its spot under
the barn forebay,
between the Ford dump truck
& the old wheelbarrow,
no longer red, on which
so little
now depends.

This entry is part 6 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

Digging with a shovel
always makes me hungry.
It’s too much like a spoon, I suppose,
& the soil too close
to food here: heavy, brown,

& as full of foreign objects
as any stew. The shovel
is both tongue & tooth
on a white ash body
twice as big around as a broom.

I love groundbreaking,
holding the handle out like
a dance partner, momentarily solemn
until the first absurd little hop
onto the top lip of the blade

& the fast ride down, barring
a sudden & jarring contact
with rock or tree root.
I love cutting sod
& setting the shovel aside

to worry the dirt free from each clump.
I love giving the earth
a new — if temporary — mouth
& listening for the harsh syllables
of rock on steel.

I even like jollying the blade
around some impediment
that threatens to snap the handle,
feeling the thing budge & loosen
& at last let go,

& the shovel cradles
its unlikely prize,
sharp-edged & slick with charisma:
a tool nobody’s invented
a use for yet.

This entry is part 7 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

This hatchet hasn’t bitten
through a neck in twenty years.
When we raised poultry,
it was in weekly use,
& also had regular dates
with the bench grinder:
a grating hiss, & a bright
new smile would open
in century-old rust.
The back of the head flares
into a hammer,
lending heft & balance
to this almost-cross
& making it easy to hang
from a pair of nails.
In a museum in Pittsburgh
I saw a hatchet
that was also a peace pipe
with a bowl opposite the blade
& the handle drilled out:
a two-faced tool for political campaigning.
Whether depriving one’s opponents
of their fleshy skullcaps
or making the circuit
of a smoke-filled room,
its true role was to mime death,
to undergo burial,
should diplomacy demand it,
its windpipe stopped up with dirt
in a grave shallow enough to allow
quick disinterment.
A sacred thing, meant to circle
from role to role.
A hatchet can even carve
its own next body,
the model for which —
as Confucius once pointed out —
is always frighteningly close.

This entry is part 8 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

A pair of old jeans —
I amputate both legs
with a pair of scissors.

*

I’ve cut myself on paper,
on grass blades,
even on certain sharp words,
but never with scissors.

*

One on a shelf in the basement
beside the string,
another with the craft paper,
& a third nestled in the sewing cabinet
among spools of thread:
We are rich. We have three pairs of scissors.

*

Every schoolkid grasps
the concept of a balance of powers
thanks to fist rock, palm paper,
& peace-sign scissors.

*

Mothers worry about
leaving their children unattended
with a left-handed pair of scissors.

*

The raccoon going through
the new trash on the riverbank
is delighted to find a shiny orphaned half
of a pair of scissors.

*

When I come into school wearing glasses
for the first time,
the other kids show me what I look like
by peering through the handles of their scissors.

*

I’m walking as quickly as I can,
stiff-legged,
mindful of the scissors.

This entry is part 9 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

bucket

As a bucket ages,
its galvanized surface
takes on the look
of new ice — that blue-
white jigsaw puzzle —
or a flock of cranes.
Something in its make-up
clearly rebels
against its type-casting
as a mere container
or temporary conveyance.
Even half-full,
for example, the handle
cuts into the hand.
People rarely think
to store a bucket
upside-down, so when
the bottom rusts through,
it can at last retire
& start life over:
a planter
for marigolds
on top of a stump
in a crew-cut lawn;
a transportable target
for rifle practice;
or hung on a nail
in the garden shed,
a home for wrens.
They line it
with grass & weeds
& perch burbling
on the rim,
bobbing up & down
on spring-loaded legs,
drawing from
an inexhaustible well.

 

Carolina wren silhouette

This entry is part 10 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

Metal claws of the beast
we would much rather
be descended from —
no wimpy swinging in trees,
no equivocating opposable tine —

whether pitching hay or turning soil
their purpose is the same:
to bite what they cannot chew
& carry what they cannot keep.

There are forks also in roads,
in creeks & in tongues,
but for them
everything remains open.
How ironic then that the man-made fork
should epitomize inflexibility:
insurrectionary bedfellow of the torch,
stoker of digestive fires,
guard’s goad in an underworld
we hope never to descend to,
minimal lightning that we are,
tree gone wrong.