It’s something that his father used to do,
which is to say, it is an ancient thing –
what fathers did, their fathers once did too,
and so on, like the never-ending ring
this village has been traveling for ages.
He pulls the nails straight out, to use again,
and if one bends, he bangs it back. The stages
of the process are patterned deep as kin.
He works, and thinks of things he’ll not recall –
his memory is given to his hands
while working, and they sometimes take it all,
the way the lake and seasons take the lands.
From time to time, he holds a nail to stare
at marks his father’s hammer brought to bear.
The marks his father’s hammer brought to bear
obscure the fragile archeology
the nails had born before, as each new layer
envelops and reforges history.
He tosses what he saves back at the box
he made last time of slats from some old bed.
He misses often, nails pile near the rocks
and tools that lie behind him near the shed.
The girls come back with buckets from the lake,
and call to him excitedly, “we got
some wet-sand for the holes!” He takes a break
to thank them for their help and what they brought,
although it’s for a job that’s weeks away,
when it comes time to mix and pour the lay.
When it comes time to mix and pour the lay,
the families from the row will all pitch in.
It takes a week to do one house per day,
and one more week before they can begin
to clamp and bolt the sills and stand the posts.
They stagger their support for those two weeks,
to help each other move in with the hosts,
and mend some early splits to stave off leaks.
But after that, save four and six-hand tasks,
the bulk of what is done, is done alone.
The help is always there if someone asks,
but no one asks. Whatever’s learned, is shown.
Their bond is unacknowledged, but it’s there.
The isolation is a thing they share.
The isolation is a thing they share
with generations – they know what they owe.
It’s something that they only have to bear
once every seven years, and only so
for twelve or thirteen weeks, and then they’re done.
It’s everybody’s burden, so they know
enough not to complain. It’s said that one
is blessed to build the house that moves the row.
The sun sets late and north in moving season,
leaving behind a woolen alpenglow
that lays his hammer down. Then, without reason,
he takes one chore before he has to go:
he picks up all the old nails that he threw.
It’s something that his father used to do.
By David Rosenthal
David Rosenthal lives in Berkeley, California, and works as a teacher and instructional coach in the Oakland Unified School District. His poems and translations have appeared in Rattle, Teachers & Writers Magazine, Measure Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Raintown Review, Unsplendid, Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and many other print and online journals. He has been a Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award Finalist and a Pushcart Prize Nominee. His collection, “The Wild Geography of Misplaced Things,” was released by Kelsay Books in 2013.