The Carpenter

Thursday, December 6th, 2012




Grandpa treasured little things:

A rusty Folgers can

in which he dropped nails

one by one.

A hammer with a broken handle

that he rescued from a stranger's garage

just to recreate.

A scrap of knotty wood

worried by knobby fingers.


I often watched him work

in his saw-dust layered,





Proud and sturdy his shadow stood

bent amongst the tool-lined walls.

Wood shavings and new creations

he tucked quietly in every corner.

He showed me drawings and numbers

scrawled on envelope-backs

by a knife-sharpened pencil.


Few words left his mouth

when Grandpa was at work.

Hold it steady

I'd hold my breath and my hands in place.

Watch your toes

I'd hear the wood hit the ground.

He was always concerned

for my toes.


His hands were hard

calloused from years of work

skilled from hours upon hours

of building homes, crafting wood

shaping scribbles into products.


But they were gentle hands

that held a great-grandbaby

lighting up their owner's face.

Or the hands that tied a grandchild's sock in a knot

and threw it across the room

just to hear a child's shriek of joy.

Or the hands that held my Grandma's,

first at that winter wartime dance

last at his cold hospital bed.


Now they play

with his scrap-wood houses:

three square cut-out windows,

a front door and a back,

a chimney, of course,

for Ohio nights,

and a hinged roof

for blocks

and eager hands.



Grandma did not sit.

She stood tall and greeted

every sympathy-dripping



from five o'clock

to ten

as if they were



With bejeweled fingers

and heavy wrists

she clasped the visitors' hands

and one by one

stories began.

Grandma laughed

and laughed

as the beads jingled

around her neck.

She loved the company.


As bedtimes passed

the line shrunk

Each conversation shorter

but slower.

The last black-heeled visitor

left Grandpa.

And then it was

just us.


Her great-grandson

stood on his tip-toes

to peer into the




Face to face

with his namesake.

He reached out his hand

It hovered

in the flower-saturated


He touched the white face

Cold Grandpa, he said.


We each scribbled notes

Dear Grandpa,

we started,

and then we penned him back

into our lives

for his scratchy kisses

and our stepped-on toes.


We stored those letters

in a drawer above his body.

Rosary beads spilled out around

his neatly folded hands.

His mouth rested

in a soft, knowing smile.

A wooden cross lay upon the open lid,

and then my uncles,

builders, too,

lay his favorite hammer by his side.

Perhaps to contest

St. Joseph

they grinned.


I had to turn away

when it was Grandma's turn

to say


but I couldn't.

The morbid, the awful

pulled me in

and then I wished I had not seen

her stroke his combed white hair

the way he never wore it

Tears streaming black

into the wrinkles of her skin

Her trembling, thin,

ruby-lip-sticked lips

that she then used

to plant

a kiss

on his forehead.

The room stared.








Five-year-old Mary

plucked each tissue


and handed one soft square

to each watery relative

in her pew.


She waited for the sniffling to begin

the creased brows or the

desperate hand

meeting the face

and then she'd know

to pluck and give.


Eleven set of hands

grasped the edges of the casket

clumsy feet and shuffled steps

of Grandpa's grandsons

carrying him up the aisle.


His granddaughters read

struggling through

cracking voices and words

while the luckier ones

sat worrying over

the odds

of spilling wine

or dropping bread.


One by one

his great-grandkids walked

some held by their mothers

others not

up the aisle

between pews of

watching eyes,

black silhouettes,

each child holding with care

or spinning in the air

one of Grandpa's

treasured tools.

They smiled




They carefully handed each tool to Father

Thank you he said in a smile

and he set them on the altar.

They glanced behind

as they walked away

their eyes beaming

as they caught sight of their gift.


They lay there by the bread and wine

against the emerald, gold cloth

their dull points aged with wear

their corners, angles heavy

their wooden handles crafted

only to a

carpenter's satisfaction.


Behind the rows of family

sat rows of dutiful friends

who watched the family struggle

through their given tasks.


was the service,

they said,

But perhaps there is more beauty,

they thought,

In a still church

of black-clad mourners.

Crying babies and rumpled tissues

scattering the crowded pews.

Every griever ready

for those white doors to open

and the service

to come

to an end.