*My new poems podcast, Words by Winter, can be found here.
A couple of years ago my publisher emailed the cover art for a new novel. I thought it was beautiful – the rich color, the design, the way the title spread itself across the image– so I showed it to the Painter and our painter friend next door.
They studied it, turned the image this way and that, then looked at each other in a silent exchange of information. They were seeing things I didn’t, but what?
They pointed here, pointed there, tried to explain how the typography was clumsy, too many fonts, and the kerning was off. And what did I think of the palette, was there too much cyan, was there enough contrast to read the spine copy? I tried to understand, but that would have required me to have different eyes. I thought of how hard reading can be for me, the books others rave about that I don’t, how sometimes I gnash my teeth and hunch my shoulders, mourning at how many sentences, including my own, could have been built so much more elegantly.
The Finish Carpenter, by Benjamin S. Grossberg
Half million, and what? Cardboard subfloors—
crap, but all right. Vinyl-sided chimney.
Looks like shit, but can’t be seen indoors,
that’s something. But, Jesus, what you can see:
door frames, wall openings, kitchen pass through—
no moldings. Nothing. It’s like a face
without eyebrows. Or ears. And we’re talking new
construction, nice street. There’s window casing,
I guess we should be grateful. But they’re my folks—
pop was an architect—and I say, look, dad,
I’ll bring my god-damned miter saw. He walks
away from me, shaking his head. Glad
to do it, I say. Take me a day. He shrugs,
I see his shoulders move, his hand sweep down
in front of his face like he’s clearing bugs
or a smell. Why not, dad? Just a little crown
in the den, some chair rail. He’s seventy.
What happens—shit ceases to matter
at that age? Come on, I say. No filigree,
just finishing. You still have that step ladder,
right? He’s on the couch now, remote in hand,
surfing. I don’t get it. I don’t. Fine
corners, cornice, some detail, a few planned
correspondences. Why not? Some lines
to guide the space, hold it together. It frames
the parts. Gives shape. An order. Some wood.
That’s all I want for him. No games,
just shape, a little grace. He’s my blood;
I want him to have it nice. Mirrors and smoke,
he says, not looking up. He’s been saying it
to me twenty years, since I went broke
fixing my first place. Prewar, Sears kit
with nothing plumb, and me wild on the phone
raving about warped floor joists and plaster.
Smoke and mirrors, he said. And that’s it. Done.
Click here for more information about Benjamin S. Grossberg.