My father's tools


I shake the tartan tin awake,
Struggle with its lid, rust-sealed, tight.
Arising from the nest of nails,
You take me by the heart,
Remind me with half a smile:
Luck's never found looking up.

A boy, eyes glowing still
From last night's thunderstorm,
You prospect the village,
Thinking as your pockets fill:
They're also from grandfather-God,
Like silver rain, lightning bolts.

Some go back fifty years
To Fitzroy's blue-stone lanes;
Others, extracted with joy
From hardwood boards and beams,
You tapped lightly on a brick —
A chiropractor of crooked spines.

Sitting on a home-made bench,
Tin on knees, you're looking for
A tack to close my gaping sole,
A brad for Mum's curtain rod,
A grey clout to keep evening light
Slipping our corrugated fence.

It's a decade since you died,
But they remain, a legacy of sorts,
Set by your galvanising touch.
I see you in the shape of my hand
Rummaging for the nail
That crucifies father to son.


Winter, no sign of dawn, you're walking to work.
The milkman's draught-horse is snorting steam.
You find it on the street, surprised by its warmth.

That night Mum suggests we leave it at the gate,
Together with the empty bottles filling our bones.
You prevail, saying fortune has her favourites.

On Sunday we point to the back gate, brick wall,
The trunk of the apricot tree, but you nail it secure
To the toilet door, open end up, for kismet's sake.

Leaving McKean Street, we pack it with the tools.
But village customs have no place in a newer home:
It's forgotten in the basement smelling of earth.

For years it was a mere dead-weight on my desk,
Restraining unpublished poems from following me
In the rush to my infant daughter crying for milk.

One day, thinking of you, I understood a truth
Silvered by retreating roads, shot with nails of light:
Spurs prod flesh forward by pointing to the past.

And there I am, at the window, scared of the night,
Watching the bearded rider entering the village square,
Circling the fountain, sowing the cobbles with stars.

The dead forgive the living thundering to the post.
Curved for motion it quickens my plodding heart,
And I'm racing toward you, redeeming your luck.

Builder's string
Hold tight, you shout, and pluck a note —
A call to prove my worth and growing strength.
Its end tied to my forefinger,
I resist your manly pull, the cutting pain.

The edge of the garden-wall defined,
You wind it deftly on a stick in figure eights,
Like Mum spinning her wool —
I rub the pink impression from my skin.

And it's remained like that ever since:
Sleeping through an Imperial Age,
Dreaming of guiding stones, aligning bricks,
Stilling gravity with a bit of lead.

Taking the knotted end as before,
I drop the spool onto the garage-floor and tug,
Delighting in its bounce, turn, twist, kick —
Unwinding in a Macedonian dance.

Hold tight, I shout, from the letterbox,
But my daughter can't see the point of our game:
My joy in restoring length to string,
Here, mid-way between father and child.

Your one-year memorial's on Sunday
And I'm making a candle-holder for your grave:
Halving a tin of virgin olive-oil,
Folding back edges into harmless hems —
When the snips' light-blue handles recollect

A clear sky, narrow yard, that boy of ten.
If we'd stayed in the fenceless village
I'd be setting out with a water-bottle made of oak,
Whistling at belled sheep, goats, cows —
But here, in Fitzroy, I keep pigeons instead.

Retaining your feeling for livestock,
You miss your card-game at the Macedonian club
To cut and cuss this corrugated sheet,
Clip chicken-wire woven like Mum's crochet,
Build a new cage for my growing flock.

Alone, having seen how homers are made,
I hold the stray between my knees
And trim its flight feathers with your heavy snips.
It will beat hard, without lift, for weeks,
Then take its bearings from our apricot tree.

We've set our candles in bricky's sand,
Chanted prayers, burnt incense, spilt red wine,
Shared cinnamoned wheat in sustaining your soul.
The years darken a child's remorse,
Like the moss on your dove's extended wings.

Tom PetsinisTom Petsinis is a novelist, playwright and poet. His forthcoming work includes a collection of poems My Father's Tool, from which the above poems are taken, and a play Salonika Bound (La Mama). He is a mathematics lecturer at Victoria University.


Topic tags: Four poems, Tom Petsinis, My father's tools, Nails, Horse-shoe, Builder's string, Tin-snips



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Existing comments

Found these reflextive poems helpful in dealing with the effects of late stage dementia on my 87 year old father. Thank you so much.
Stephen Coyle | 19 June 2009

My Father's Tools - these are beautiful words, thank you so much.

You describe with uncanny precision the way in which I identified with the contents of my granddad's toolshed - rummaging about down there as a kid and making no end of mess. It was all magically cleaned up afterwards, and always forgiven :) And then when the house was cleared some years after he died, and when gran moved out to a nursing home, we raked over the benches and racks and drawers for the last time.

That tin of nails - exactly as you describe! Lid sweated on with rust. I kept it - using the contents of course - for years. And a crafted wooden box - dovetailed corners and sliding lid - of wooden-handled chisels, and the stone to hone them on.

I do look forward to reading more when the book is published.

These poems speak to me of a very earthy male spirituality; bonding generations of men to one another, and bonding a man's 'inner man' to the God we know deep within us. Thank you again.
Richard | 19 June 2009


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