My dad worked the trades for fifteen years.
He learned four names for sheetrock mud,
that nails measure in pennies by their length,
and if he went to bars he could say Rusty Nail
until the words corroded in his mouth
and still they’d bring him scotch.
And through those fifteen years he had three wives
and my two sisters, and then me.
And we all asked him to be better than he was.
It doesn’t work like that. You shouldn’t ask a hammer
to act like a baseball bat. And if you’re on a jobsite
and you call out sheep’s-foot, cat’s-paw,
cat’s-claw, crow’s-foot, deck-wrecker,
then you’re saying you know what it does.
My father’s favorite story is the motel room in Billings
we stayed at on a renovation job. It was
just me and him. When we turned off the TV
we could hear the infield chatter
from the low-A minor league ballpark next door.
We were so close, we’d sit out on the ashtray
of our balcony, and holler at the peanut man,
Toss me a bag! Of course it didn’t work,
but we both liked to ask for things we knew
we would not get. And then it did.
—from Rattle #63, Spring 2019
Jesse Bertron: “As the son of a carpenter, I was raised in the slippery language of the building trades. There are three names for everything, and knowing a thing’s name often precedes the knowledge of what the thing actually is. I continue to be amazed at the sheer pleasure most tradesmen take in words. Why be satisfied with accuracy? When I ask for a wrench, I want to ask in abundance.”