THE DAHLONEGA PROJECTS

Posted by | December 21, 2009 | Fatherhood and venison jerkey | One Comment

My wife and I lived in Virginia from ’00 to ’04 while I was in grad school for poetry. By ’03 we were already two kids heavier and I had started my second summer as a one-man freelance construction business to help make ends meet. I built decks, patios, pergolas and sheds – none of which I had experience doing before I landed my first job. Well, OK, I did have some experience. I helped my dad carry lumber for the deck he built on our house when I was in 7th grade. And I did have a decent collection of his power tools that I had borrowed and not returned. Like they say, you’re an expert till someone proves you otherwise. Yep.

I never planned on starting this business. One of my professors asked if I could help do some repairs on their deck. I said yes, and one total rebuild, one pergola, two field-stone patios, a retaining wall, a summer and half a fall later – I was a bona fide craftsman, or a certified nut…you make the call. All I know is that as a grad student and dad with a young family, I was grateful for the chance to make a good buck. But I was also grateful for fertile ground to dig into for my writing. Later that fall semester (just weeks after September 11th) I had an assignment come up in one of my classes that required writing in a formal structure. What follows is a collection of poems, specifically cinquains, that I titled “The Dahlonega Projects” after the name of the street my professor lived on. There’s a bunch, but they’re a fast read.

THE ESTIMATE

Paper-
work that explains
the cost of the mess that
I’ll make in back of their house this
summer.

BUYING MATERIALS

Only
dead-straight lumber,
galvanized nails and screws,
eighty pound bags of concrete and
patience.

BLUEPRINT

Each line
must be as clean
and straight as the finished
product, and the numbers had best
add up.

A CLEAN WORKSPACE

Scrap wood,
sawdust, tools, screws,
extension cords—all have
minds of their own by the end of
the day.

COFFEE

Nothing
begins before
I’ve made a pot and drank
my mind and muscles full-up like
Popeye.

SUN-UP

Before
the world wakes from
dream-silence into day,
from coffee to a hammer, stars
hang on.

LEAVING FOR WORK

My wife
blows a silent
kiss from the back door, while
the baby is still an hour from
waking.

LUNCH BREAK

Brown bag
lunches can’t be
beat, especially when
she’s packed a love note with the ham
and cheese.

AN ASIDE ON CONSTRUCTION WORK

The act
of creating
a structure from nothing
but imagination and will:
power.

WORKING IN THE HEAT

Let sweat
drip from my nose,
run stinging into my
eyes, make my hands slick and my throat
dry out.

MEASURING TO 1/16th OF AN INCH

The gap
left from being
off by 1/16th is
the drip from the pricey faucet,
at night.

RIGHT TOOLS

Without
power tools I
might as well be at a
buffet with no plate, silverware,
or cash.

WOOD GRAIN

The wood
will tell you what
side of the board should be
facing up. Read the directions:
cup down.

HALF UP-FRONT

The thing
about making
a deposit that size
is that the first withdrawal is much
bigger.

VIBRATION

My hands
feel like they’re in
gloves made out of millions
of ants more hell bent to finish
than me.

LOCATION

If dogs
live where you work,
expect the back yard to
be a war zone, fully armed with
landmines.

WINDS OF CHANGE

Owners
will think of more
and more things that they wish
done, usually at breakfast or
sun-down.

NAILS vs. SCREWS

Construct
a line with just
any words and you get
a line. Build with guts you’ll be a
poet.

THE COLOR OF LEAVES

They would
generally
go unnoticed if not
for the persistence of the birds
singing.

SEPTEMBER 10th 2001

Planes from
Baltimore and
National mixed engine song
with classic rock. I’d look up for
‘copters.

SEPTEMBER 18th 2001

My saw
ripped into live
coverage, broadcasting that
we should go on living. The sky
was dead.

EXPECT LITTLE COOPERATION

Making
a living by
the hour can be done
if the Sun God decides he likes
your work.

POST HOLES

Six holes
one foot, two feet,
three feet, four feet deep through
roots as thick as my forearm, all
by hand.

LAYING OUT THE PATTERN

Field stone
resists being
fit together like tight
puzzle pieces, likes to have room
to breathe.

80 POUND BAGS

With no
place to put them
close to where I needed
them, I climbed roughly two hundred-
ten flights.

CLEAR VERTICAL GRAIN

Cut from
the heart of old
growth cedar, the wood begs
meditation, vision and a
sharp blade.

WISTERIA

Thirty
years of growth that
was cut away in a
few hours was just a trim for the
old boy.

HARRY MOTIVATES THE HELP

I would
work in any
heat from dawn till dusk just
to hear him ask you want a beer,
brother?

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE PROJECTS

As long
as there is light
in the mind of a home-
owner who believes revising
is fun.


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