“A Plumber’s Guide to Light” by Jesse Bertron

Jesse Bertron


Top out is the best phase
of new construction plumbing
if light is what you’re after.
If light is what you’re after, look:

a forest of deciduous blond studs.
There’s open air where windows go, plus
in top out, you’re uncoiling rolls of PEX
into the attic and back down, so your face

is always tilted toward the sky.
The worst for light: set out. Which is mostly
what I do. And let me tell you.
When I’m wedged beneath

a vanity, some windowless hall bath,
my back arched to give the golden nuts
of tailpieces turn after turn until they squeak
against their gaskets, I am dreaming about light.

I am dreaming of a cup of coffee in my hand
loading up outside the warehouse, 7 a.m.,
light clocking in over the toll road
past the chain link fence.

It’s out of fashion, now, to talk about the dawn.
It’s kind of something you just see and whap
your lover or whoever on the thigh, and just be quiet
and be satisfied: the dawn.

But on the jobsite radio, there’s ballads
about loving the person you have married
or about how your work is difficult but yours—
none of it music I would choose!—

and when I’m wedged beneath a vanity, sawzalling
a ventpipe that some roofer has pissed into
so stale urine sprays onto my cheeks,
I like to stop and listen to that music.

Not because I like to hear things said in great detail
whose beauty should be obvious in brief.
But it comforts me. And I don’t shit on comfort
for not being something more.

from A Plumber’s Guide to Light
2020 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Jesse Bertron: “A Plumber’s Guide to Light is a love letter to the building trades and to the people who work them. This book is populated by people who think they will be saved by work and by those who know they won’t. It looks at the fragile seam that runs between the job site and the home, about the ways that family and work bleed into one another.” (web)

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