I. Charles Keys: At the Wheelwright’s Shop
My job was one of arcs and angles, anxious
folks preparing for a journey (theirs
or someone else’s).
Wagon wheels demand
precision, while the dead absolve a coffin’s
hasty corner. Hacksaw, rasp, and clamp:
the tools I used remained the same, no matter
what the goal. What differed was the lumber:
seasoned oak for spokes and fellies, yellow
pine for what was due to moulder also.
When Influenza struck, I watched him work
afore by sizing up the sick and dying
with the folding rule inside his mind.
So many nights he did not sleep for making
boxes, large and small. No time to carve
a flourish or initials, just the space
to wonder what it would be like to lie
within his own. I could have told him: every
dawn arrives escorted by a murder
of crows; each Caw resets the final nail.
II. Preston Tracey: All Hallow’s Eve
We scrambled up the slanted schoolhouse roof.
The spool of thread? We stole it from the mill.
Tied one end to the fettered bell’s dumb tongue;
the rest unwound us to the shadowed hill.
Midnight, the slender tether did its work –
ten panicked men came shouting to the street:
What’s wrong? Is something burning? Who’s been hurt?
We laughed at our success, the prank completed.
Yet an unseen power pulled us back,
our bodies governed by harmonic motion.
The ground vines snared us in the inky black
and, overcome by fear and night’s dark potion,
we fell. Stateside shadows, we later learned,
of cousins and brothers lost in the Meuse-Argonne.
III. William Craumer: Twist
Although it’s true my fingers did not need
a chaperone to oversee their dodge-
and-weave, I had two eyes and they both worked.
But pity makes a story stronger; for years
I was preserved as William Craumer, blind
broom maker, words that trailed me like a homeless
pup. Then my great-grandson found the photo showing
me behind the buggy’s reins, a whip
within my easy reach, Alethia
a child yet, safe beside me. My gaze fixed.
I don’t blame them for twisting me to fit
their need. I twisted life as well. This broomcorn
isn’t corn at all but sorghum sentenced
to a life of sweeping ash and dirt
because it looks the part.
What does it really
matter? Anything that’s used too much
will harden to its task: a broom, a pair
of hands or eyes. Just what was left to see?
IV. Marian Brown: Persistence
a little at a time:
the story took on contours
while water erased
One day, all
that persisted was what
we christened truth: the water
was ankle deep when
Dynamite rubble rained
on the schoolhouse with students
inside. The spring worked
years John teased that he found
me in Loch Raven, clinging
to the wooden pole.
I believed it, the way
an old-time hymn must be true
when you sing with your