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El Greco: Espolio

Earle Birney
From:   Fall by Fury. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977. With permission of the Estate of Earle Birney.

The carpenter is intent on the pressure of his hand

on the awl     and the trick of pinpointing his strength
through the awl to the wood     which is tough
He has no effort to spare for despoilings
or to worry if he'll be cut in on the dice
His skill is vital to the scene     and the safety of the state
Anyone can perform the indignities     It's his hard arms
and craft that hold the eyes of the convict's women
There is the problem of getting the holes exact
(in the middle of this elbowing crowd)
and deep enough to hold the spikes
after they've sunk through those bared feet
and inadequate wrists he knows are waiting behind him

He doesn't sense perhaps that one of the hands
is held in a curious gesture over him--

giving     or asking     forgiveness?-
but he'd scarcely take time to be puzzled by poses
Criminals come in all sorts
as anyone knows who makes crosses
are as mad or sane as those who decide on their killings
Our one at least has been quiet so far
though they say he talked himself into this trouble
a carpenter's son who got notions of preaching

Well here's a carpenter's son who'll have carpenter sons
God willing     and build what's wanted
temples or tables     mangers or crosses
and shape them decently
working alone in that firm and profound abstraction
which blots out the bawling of rag-snatchers
To construct with hands     knee-weight     braced thigh
keeps the back turned from death

But it's too late now for the other carpenter's boy
to return to this peace before the nails are hammered


Point Grey 1960


Earle Birney's works copyright © to the Estate of Earle Birney.
Reprinted with the permission of the Estate.


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