Ode to a Magnetic Screwdriver

This entry is part 11 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools


If the part that screws
is the head — this X-
shaped tip — then
the other end must be
tail: the shaft rooted
in transparent sun-
colored plastic like
an insect in amber.
And considering how
the power drill
with screwdriver bit
has replaced it,
this might as well be
a relic from
the Mesozoic.
The tip attracts
anything steel, but
can only solve for x,
descending into
the head of the screw
like a spirit
into someone possessed,
spinning like a purpose-
driven whirlwind
in a desert of wood,
inclining ever so slightly
toward magnetic north.

Ode to a Plumb Bob

This entry is part 12 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools


Brass doorknocker
for a house without a door

downward dog
always on point over the same
obvious quarry

flightless rocket
leaded with failure

pendulum made
to mark eternity
one still moment at a time.

Ode to a House Jack

This entry is part 13 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools


This time, there are no magic beans.
Every man-jack turns into
an acme-threaded beanstalk.

The hound under the porch
noses at the growing
hoard of sunlight

as the old house
climbs groaning
into the sky.

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:


Ode to Scythes

This entry is part 15 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools



The scythes are emissaries
from a country
that no longer exists.
They have only each other
to converse with now
that their translator
the whetstone went off
& joined the knives.
They huddle together
in corners, nested esses
long in the tooth
but still as fluid
as the staff of Moses
at the exact moment
it shifted into an asp.
Do you remember,
they murmur, how
the crowds
would lose their heads
& stand like soldiers,
stiff, when the wind
moved through?

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.

Ode to a Spirit Level

This entry is part 17 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools


Who would have thought that two vacant globes
preserved in alcohol

could so hold a construction
worker’s attention,

a devotional gaze otherwise reserved
for gravity-defying breasts or buttocks

if not always the eyes that go with them,
that cool disregard

that elicits a squint & a whistle
at whatever fails to fall into line.

Ode to a Hoe

This entry is part 18 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools


What begins with this
singular L?
New worms, certainly,
from the splitting
of their parent self.
Whole new cities
of aerobic bacteria.
Stones from rocks.
Sprouts of pigweed, lamb’s-quarters,
purslane, dock: seeds
that had lain dormant for decades
until the hoe stirred them
into life.
This italic L spells
hills for yams,
channels for irrigation water,
a level bed for flowers.
Its thick tongue
uncovers an instant palate.
Luh, it says.
Luh   luh   luh   luh.
The shocks travel
up the aching arms.

Ode to Tin Snips

This entry is part 19 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools


Scissors with an overbite,
blades like quotation marks
devouring the text —
some lost codex from
the Aluminum Age —
& leaving in its place
a jagged rent: massively
buck-toothed myself,
I know how elusive
a clean break can be.
Despite what orthodontists
would have us think,
a naturally straight bite
is a rare thing.
Most of us learn early
how to compensate,
squaring the circle,
holding our heads over
whatever plate, baring
our lips in the inevitable
tin grin.

Ode to a Crowbar

This entry is part 20 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools


Comma, apostrophe, back-
slash, cursive flourish —
an all-purpose divider
that only accidentally resembles
a question mark in search
of its dot-like perch.
No self-respecting crow, beak
clever at leverage, ever
departed from
the declarative mode.
Male & female
hand & handle,
heavy as Wednesday.
What iron tree might ramify
if you insinuated yourself
into some sidewalk crack?
I know that curl
from watching seeds sprout:
cotyledon at the point
of pulling apart.

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