“Tabula Rasa” by Matthew Wimberley

Matthew Wimberley


He still remembers how to move
sandpaper with the wood grain,
push back years of weariness
and start again. I watch
him strip away lacquer, deep maple
colored jelly pushed off of edges
and pooled on the floor. The smell
of chemicals eating at paint and wood until
the surface looks like chalk dust
or the shoulder-blade of some extinct mammal
in a museum. He brushes away sawdust
from the tabletop like a paleontologist pushing
dirt in the badlands, callused hands shaking
as he excavates. His own bones ready
for the earth. Hips replaced. Knees rebuilt. Man
made heart. Arched over the table dipping
his brush in a tin-can of stain propped
on an anvil, he lets the polyurethane give itself
to the wood and looks over to me.
Who are you? I give my best fake smile until he
sighs and goes back to work, taking
a kerchief out of his breast pocket to dab
away sweat on his forehead. Nana tells me
it hurts to forget. Eighty-six years don’t
disappear all at once. When the work’s done
he stirs the paint stick in the wood stain
and lets the lid rest over the top. Brushes
washed and put away, so only the table remains.

from Rattle #39, Spring 2013
Tribute to Southern Poets

[download audio]


Matthew Wimberly: (North Carolina): “I wrote my first poem after reading ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ in the seventh grade. That poem changed the rest of my life. Growing up on top of a mountain meant I’d often have to entertain myself alone. I loved running down trails and skipping stones in the creek behind my house, and it became natural to entertain myself by writing poetry. To this day I love to play with words, to see how a poem can provide a new lens for looking at the world. If anything, I want other people to find something as alive in poetry as out in the wild.”

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