Sunday, August 15, 2021

A Plumber's Guide to Light

Oh, my! A Plumber's Guide to Light, by Jesse Bertron (Rattle, 2021) was the perfect book to read today! I read it right before church--Zoom Church. It had occurred to me when I woke up that maybe I should have saved Holy Magic for today because of the word "holy," but instead it's a holy Random Coinciday in the blog because

1) today's Zoom Church readings were from 2 Chronicles 34:8-12, 14-19 about repairing the house of the Lord and "On Houses" by Kahlil Gibran

2) A Plumber's Guide to Light is all about the building trades (and so much more!)

3) one of the workers in the book is actually named Antonio, like my actual husband, who is a carpenter with electrician and plumber skills, too, as well as being a visual artist, the way Jesse Bertron is a laborer as well as a poet!

I connect with so much in this book! In the very first poem, "Shorty," the speaker does his work "with Shorty sitting / on a  five-gallon primer bucket" supervising. Same scene described to me by my husband, doing some labor with a retired but still licensed plumber at hand for his expertise. 

I've heard the refrain "Good enough for government work," from the poem "Slop," repeated by members of the extended family. And I give you these great lines from "Slop" (in addition to the ones about shoddy work on a toilet that mean "when the wax ring goes, // a little water mixed with human shit will leak onto the floor / with every flush"):

     Never buy a house built on a Friday, is something Jacob said
     on a Friday, as he walked away from a bad solder.

     The human race: built on a Friday!
     That's what Genesis says--a book of the Bible that I love,
     starring as it does an expert working at a speed

     that may invite disaster.

See what I mean? Perfect for a Sunday. And also a perfect blend of humor, reality of the working world, and religious philosophy.

I connect with the actual labor, having helped my husband lift and move heavy things (scary on the stairs), sand hardwood floors, grout bathroom tile, and paint porches. "Antonio loves to work..." begins  a line from the poem "Orientation," but when I told my husband he should read this book, he said, "I don't like plumbing much." (He's working on a bathroom right now.)

And there are beautiful, devastating poems about the mother here, losing her memory. In the poem "Dust," the mother forgetting her plan to "end her life" before her mind gets worse was strangely comforting to me. And "Telephone Crew," with the mother having to fend off the archer who came "with the shoot an arrow tied to high-gauge fishing line / above the trees, and use that line to string the cable // to her house," was altogether marvelous. First, who knew? How ingenious! Second, what a strong woman.

So! I love this book! I leave you with two central stanzas from "There Was No Assignment but There Will Be a Test":

     It has been a hard year, so I want to tell my neighbor's kid
     that the most important part of a story
     is someone you love will ask for what they need
     and you'll fail them in a way you have prepared for all your life.

     The only way you'll see out of the cell
     of your regret will be
     to hold the splintered thread of the everyday
     as if it were spun gold.

(See spun gold electrical wire above. Plus a toilet wax ring. Sigh....)


Bethany Reid said...

"There was no assignment but there will be a test" -- I need to get my hands on this book! My husband, though he worked as a teacher for many years, is a handyman at heart and is always recruiting me to hold a board straight while he saws or pack something up the stairs. Random coinciday, indeed!

Kathleen said...

The Rattle chapbooks are wonderful!