Ode to a Plane

This entry is part 16 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools



The carpenter’s plane glides
through a sky of wood,
no propeller but the knob,
no tail but the tote,
no landing gear but the mouth & the blade
& no chance of flying but the flat steel frog.

The carpenter’s plane touches down
& down. Chips curl in a wave
that never stops breaking.
No one ever really escapes;
all planes are bound to the planet.
The only route out leads farther in.

When the carpenter’s plane got to Japan
it began to work in reverse:
there’s always more power in the homeward pull.
You go out hungry & come back
digesting fragments light as air,
dangerous with the scent of new surfaces.

Series Navigation← Ode to ScythesOde to a Spirit Level →

18 Replies to “Ode to a Plane”

  1. This carpenter’s plane, more than any other tool you’ve written odes to, makes me remember my father. He was a true Old World craftsman with wood, making fine furniture, repairing and refinishing pianos and even making classical guitars. I have fond memories of watching him work with his tools. Thanks for the memory jog again, Dave.

  2. I love this, the plane plane, the chips that curl in a wave…All of it. In fact the whole idea of odes to tools is fabulous. Something like Shaker furniture, plain and well-made and fitting perfectly in the environment.

  3. A weird palpable memory. I feel like I’m remembering the inside of my mom’s womb for some reason, just because you are shaking loose an ancient memory.

    I was somehow sad at the end that the word dangerous popped up. I was more upbeat til then. Upbeat and sort of dozing as the adze reduced the plank : )
    I love the mundane happy workmanlike feeling.

    Something very sensual to the entire thing, in spite of almost no direct mention of any sense.

  4. Dave, you know how much I admire your poetry in general. Is there room for gentle criticism? First two stanzas hold together very nicely. The third starts out a little like a shop manual, and doesn’t quite work for me. I actually think the first two make a lovely tight poem on their own.

  5. Thanks for all the comments; constructive criticism is always welcome! Thanks Sarah and Rachel for helping me see where I still have some work to do. I don’t often write poems where the stanzas are this distinct one from another. Getting them to work together is unusually tricky.

    Marja-Leena – It sounds like your father was a real role model for you as an artist. I’m glad this helped shake some memories loose.

    Natalie – I hadn’t thought about the Shakers in reference to this series, though of course I’m flattered by the comparison. To be honest, my main reason for avoiding power tools thus far is the fact that I don’t understand them. But probably even if I did, it would still be harder to see a power tool apart from its toolness.

    Evan – Glad you liked. There might well be a better word than “dangerous,” but the idea there was key. This poem was strongly influenced by all the natural disasters in the news.

  6. O.K., I attempted a rewrite of the last stanza. For archival purposes, here’s its more pedantic predecessor:

    A Japanese plane works in the opposite
    direction from ours, taking advantage
    of the greater power in a homeward pull.
    It goes out empty & returns full,
    as is so often the case: full to breaking.
    Dangerous with the scent of new surfaces.

    That accidental end-rhyme should’ve been a warning signal for an anti-formalist like me. :)

  7. I, too, am strongly taken with the first two stanzas. The last seems wordy without the ‘glide of the plane’ found in the previous verses. “Dangerous” is baffling to me, I can’t get a sense of what you meant.
    Probably more a criticism of my ability to understand than yours to express. I do enjoy your poetry and photos. Thanks for expanding my world.

  8. Thanks for the feedback. I may have to clarify what I meant by “dangerous,” but basically I was thinking of the reaction many home-bound people have toward a newly returned traveller, carefully avoiding all but the most superficial questions about his/her time abroad. This reaction is especially strong among Japanese, but I’ve run into it here in the U.S., too.

  9. I don’t know how you could bear to leave that great image so modestly sized! I’d leave a comment at Flicker but there are disincentives, so here I write “Fantastic image, Dave!” You’ve been busy. I think I’ve heard you speak of photoshopping. What software do you have, the expensive stuff? Can I get something like this? Great work with the tone and detail. The conflation of the images is outrageous: is there an impact crater in the works?

  10. OK, not an impact crater. I got carried away.
    As for size, it is proportioned to your stanzas.

    I do like how the plane runs with the grain of the shadows.

    John Peto over Grant Wood.

    Sigh. This image is awesome.

    Thanks for the comments session extension!

  11. I think this is one of the best tool odes. Perversely I love the use of dangerous, it is the strongest image. This piece is so clever, Dave, unadulterated poetry…..digesting fragments light as air, wonderful. I just read the other comments after I’d given my twopenneth…..(I so dig this edit feature) and I think the third is the strongest stanza, I think it is what gives the poem depth and resonance, go figure :)

  12. Bill – Thanks for noticing the image! Yes, I have Photoshop, but I wouldn’t really have needed it for this one. I simply set the plane down on the cover of the Pennsylvania Atlas and positioned the light so it was roughly where the sun had been when the fellow shot that low aerial photo on the cover. Pretty tricky, eh?

    Johemmant – I’m glad you liked the new last stanza. You know I have a very high opinion of your poetic sensiblities. In fairness to the other commenters, though, all but Linda were reacting to the earlier, more pedantic version. And I don’t disagree with Linda that it is wordier; I just think of them as three different poems.

    Do you Brits really say “twopenneth” instead of “two cents”? How perverse! :)

  13. That photo, the way you set it up, is dynamite. Plane landing. Perfect.

    The poem, the way you’ve edited it, is also very strong. Pivoting on an understated word play. And I’m with Jo, in the new context, I like the last line very much.

    Not everyone’s got the patience to stick with hand tools.

  14. Bill – Ha! Thanks for that. (Congrats on figuring out how to add HTML tags, by the way.)

    MB – Thanks for the comment. You’ve offered some solid critiques here in the past, so I’m glad you feel this poem works now. Re: patience, I seem to have that only for crafting poems — and often not even then. I undertake this kind of series in part to try and learn better self-discipline.

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