“Eighth Grade Industrial Arts” by Al Ortolani

Al Ortolani


Shop Class frightened him,
the jigsaw, the planer, the lathe,
most of all the teacher
and his long, double-strapped paddle
that hung by the tool room door.
He was frightened by the raw oak
that he dreamed would become a bookshelf
where he’d rest his favorite copies
of Robin Hood and Tom Swift.
Unlike Eric or Wayne, he couldn’t see
how to turn lumber into the photograph, p. 87,
in the shop text. From here to there
was lost to him, not unlike Latin
or basketball or junior high girls.
He feared everything in Shop Class,
the noise of the jigsaw, the vibration
of the blade, the proximity of his fingers
to the cut. He feared his stupidity,
his awkwardness with tools, the towering
man with the paddle, who appeared
to frown at his very existence, who took
his misshapen boards out of his hands,
and, in saving the boy from an F,
screwed them together
with thick, round-headed wood screws,
then, tossing it like a towel
onto the shop table, wiped his hands
clean on his navy apron.

from Hansel and Gretel Get the Word on the Street
2019 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Al Ortolani: “These poems represent connections to others, sometimes dark, sometimes light, often quirky. A fellow teacher, and mentor to the poet, once said that one of the most difficult measures of the career public school teacher is their ability to stay positive and elevated by interest, if not always in the subject matter, then in the hand raised outside of the T zone.” (web)

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