About the Laying-On of Bricks Not Hands
by Nancy Flynn
Forty years after my bricklayer grandfather died, age sixty,
fatal heart attack during the fabled Ali-Frazier fight,
I am on hands, on knees that seem, at fifty-five,
to have lost all cushion of cartilage. I am cleaning
these bricks, this heart-shaped garden path,
wire-brushing moss—my grandmother’s maiden name—
scraping away mold that may hearken back to 1938,
the year this house was built. I try to fill in the blanks,
measure my measly chinks beside the seeming immutability
of such clinkers, once the ones they threw away.
My hands span wide enough to play an octave, would make it easy
to finger-splay each paver then set it before I’d trowel-slather
and join with lime/sand/water/cement. Crossways header,
meet longways stretcher. Mortared, you could stack
every transgression baked in this life’s kiln of shame.
Oh, these more-than-halfway days—of harpy meets hector,
letting the gray grow, letting the estrogen peter out.
While the wind’s forever missing the top notes, breezing
through sheers as if my house were a sloop in the nautical
church of testify, praise-to-glory the shores of Lake Cayuga,
promised lands even rivers—my Susquehanna home one, too
the mighty Columbia barely a mile or two down the street.
I bike to see it, seek its tiniest poem. Watch the delta turn
birds to slough it, dive for suet in spite of their off-song
chitter and screech. Fleeing, fleeting, omnia mors aequat—
yet again, it’s death that equals all things. Worship,
my altar can only be this spreader-root tilt, more heave.
These thousand imperfect, vitrified bricks I scrub of mud
and burn and still the residue from their ages-ago
firing glazes, stubborn as vine, insistent as rot.
Nancy Flynn (website) hails from the anthracite coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania and somehow, at an early age, fell in love with words instead of into a sinkhole or the then-polluted Susquehanna River. She was involved with all things literary back in the dark ages of high school, writing bad haiku and meandering vers libre that included the words mystical and entwined. Her writing has since received a James Jones First Novel Fellowship and an Oregon Literary Fellowship. Her 2007 poetry chapbook, The Hours of Us, was nominated for an Oregon Book Award; a second chapbook, Eternity a Coal’s Throw, is forthcoming from Burning River in 2012. A former university administrator, she now writes creatively and edits carefully from her sea-green house near lovely Alberta Park in Portland, Oregon.