Grease and Rust
The Turtle and the Stone
This piece is about 5 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Asa Boxer and Jacket magazine 2007.
Grease and Rust
Every tool is the anointed king of its work:
even as it waits and fades into the general mess,
even if it sinks to the status of a handle
poking from a box behind the curtain
beneath the counter, a wire coiled
round the grip, its head near drowned
in a pool of screws... A coat of oil
repels corruption while the handle waits.
The vise is seasoned black with grease.
Black grease is cleanest in the shop
where rust is the enemy; clean means
strongholds of metal free of rust.
Everything blessed with oil, like the hair
of heroes and saints, prophets and messiahs.
Grease fills the surface-scratch that’ll never heal,
settles deep into the score against all agents of rust.
Each tool is patient and confident it is meant
for the job it was designed to do best; it will wait
if it is used for only a moment in a rock’s life
or for a thousand years in the tribal life, it will wait.
The workman has observed this waiting,
this slouched hanging from the board,
like the one square hanging in the ready
with a level to get it all straight
the way the other levels laid aside wait
with bubbles of air, like held breaths that can tell
when all is aligned and gravity agrees
that the work is plumb with the heart of the world.
Some say the patience of the workman
is the virtue of his shop, but, truly, the virtue
is motion. Rest is not how things get done.
Rest is how rust creeps into the world.
Sunk behind its dingy window
in a supermarket aquarium,
the lobster turns a muzzy eye
on the great élan of air.
Exposed to every scrutiny; it waits,
claws bound, an antenna snapped.
Not a crawl-space, nor a shadow,
still as stone; invisible, it hopes.
It hopes a lobster’s coral hopes,
cramped upon a shallow shelf.
But its brains cannot conceive the sea
outside the lobster-shell. Desire, thus,
keeps slim to fit the narrow life within.
You will never hear the baffled lobster cry,
“What crime could be so great it moved the sea
to single-out a bloated shrimp like me?”
It’s a muffled clatter, this life that smudges by:
rattling cartloads of death perambulate past;
smutchy children nose and thump the glass;
vague eyes and teeth wink pearl hints
of what’s to come. This wispy world
suffused with light; a lobster’s carnival-
afterlife. Where each impression colours and brews
through nerve, and muscle, and sinew.
Where a thorny heat keeps life fired
to a reddening shriek. And God,
God boils it through.
The Turtle and the Stone
The turtle moves as slowly as he does,
because he desires to be counted
among the stone-cold, the rock-solid.
The turtle moves as carefully as he does,
because he wants to live forever
and somewhere in his amphibious brain,
the longevity of coral, the persistence
of mountains and boulders have impressed
him with their stubborn immobility.
The turtle is but a step away from stone,
and he hopes, each day, to slow his pace,
to approach, within a fraction, a dead halt,
and thus come so near death as to learn
the secrets of eternity, and strike the deal
struck by stone.
She is a surveyor of the lakefront, the forest, and the field.
Shifting from angle to angle, the damselfly stops at intervals
to triangulate the picture. She dead-halts in air, threadbare
wings moving so fast, they disappear and leave her dangling,
perfectly still, a hovering stick, a broken rule. She darts
and ducks the deadly possibilities. Her survival depends
upon her ability to distinguish between lizard and rock.
She can’t afford to confuse the quality of patience
with the unshakeable promise of stone. The lizards
attract her with the humility of their devotions, imitating
the hard modesty of pebble and rock. From their head-bones
to their tails, they offer the safe shelter of a jagged ridge.
But theirs is the cold hunger of stone. In her world,
even the rocks hide deadly tongues. This is why
the damselfly darts and flits and buzzes in fits.
She too grows stiff as stone, ever on edge,
anticipating a sudden softening of the hard world,
expecting an agile pounce, awaiting a limber lunge.
She only settles because she must. She’s wired stiff
on a turtle’s back, her thousand eyes alert but unaware
that an eyeball — slow as the world’s turning —
has peeled back its green lid, that a wrinkled head
has decided to inch toward water. The mountains
and the rooted trees are about to topple, the anchored
lake, about to spill its awful weight. She hovers in place
as the turtle-shell leaves her feet with a gulp. She is elated.
She is the measure that flies in the face of nature. Now,
as the damselfly passes, every stone holds its tongue.
Asa Boxer’s first book of poems is The Mechanical Bird (2007). Some of the poems from this collection won the 2004 CBC/enRoute poetry competition, and several have been anthologized in The New Canon (2005) and in Memoir D’encrier’s Montreal vue par ses poetes (2006). Boxer has published literary essays and reviews in Books in Canada, Canadian Notes & Queries, Maisonneuve, and Arc.
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