Tuesday, October 19, 2010


There was an old pruning saw
I favored that folded in two
with a wingnut hinge
curved handle and blade
two crescent moons
that hung from a rusty nail
on the wall of the back porch
of my grandmother's house.

The saw curved like a comma
and I could pull down hard
on it with my 12-year-old arms
and cut the slender branches
that threatened to pull me
from the back of my horse.

No one else to do it for me
I made do as best I could.
Like the time the Toby's Feedstore
driver delivered a ton of hay but
dumped it at the bottom of the hill
because he couldn't be bothered stacking it
assuming there was a man about the house
to take care of such ordinary things.

I was faced with hefting hay bales
a tenth of a mile up to the old barn
and the sky spitting, rain was coming.
No matter that it took me most of the summer
babysitting to earn enough money
to buy that ton of shining oat hay
for my old glue factory rescue horse.

I wailed, wiped my nose on my sleeve,
jabbed rusty hayhooks into a bale
and frogmarched it to the barn.
Then another, and another.
It was hard work for a child.
It was the only way I knew how
and I was never going to make it
before the rains came.

My grandmother took pity on me
and together we heaved the bales
into the old wheelbarrow but the path was muddy
so we strung together a series of planks
and wheeled hay up that hill all afternoon.

A passing neighbor saw our plight
an old woman and a slender child
bent over a rusted wheelbarrow
grunting and pushing hay to the barn.
In no time, he hefted the bales up,
safely stacked under the eaves.

Then the rain began to pour in earnest.
We were thankful but I felt betrayed
by my own frailty and inability to manage
such a Sisyphean task. I was grateful
that the rain hid my raging tears.
The old horse, sensing my distress,
sidled over and rubbed her muzzle
across my aching arms, her breath,
small comfort on my cold, wet skin.

Pick a tool, make that the title of your poem, and write your poem. There are the more obvious tools, of course: hammer, screwdriver, wrench, etc. But there also less obvious tools and/or specialized tools available as well. Before attacking this poem, you may want to just think about the various possibilities first. Or just write.

Notes to Lynn: Pick an old tool—with a story to tell. Think of your experiences with it—or someone in your family. Where was it stored? Location. Details. Why were you attracted to it? What did it look like (simile). Remind you of? Did you have permission to use it? Any annual rituals associated with it? Many tools have remained unchanged since the Iron Age: hammer, tongs, sheep shears.

As kids, we had a range of favorite tools—probably because we too could use them. A certain screwdriver, a hammer, a hayhook or hoofpick.

I had a saw, a Christmas tree saw, I fiercely loved. And a barbed wire tool—cutter wrench, hammer, nail puller, you name it. As a child, I was always mending our old fences to keep the horses in. It looked like a bull's head with horns. Later, it reminded me of Picasso's "Guernica." Forget the bicycle seat and handlebars as bull head motif. The fencing tool was better. Appropriate shape too—made to corral the cattle.

The folding pruning saw was mine. Grandma had a set of tension blade saws—I never could get them to work. Nor the carpenter's saws. They waggled too much but I loved the broing noises they made. I opted for the folding saw—it hadn't been used in decades. It hung on a nail in the shed. Behind the door—so it was overlooked, rusted iron, weathered wood handle, you could barely see it. But I knew it was there—behind the door. I could barely reach it as I lifted it off the wall. Some sewing machine oil unfroze the wingnut. The sawteeth were still surprisingly sharp—to my chagirn—when they met flesh, they bit deep.

I used it to cut down broomstick thick Christmas trees—really Doug fir sprouts, from up the hill. Low hanging branches on the deer trails—that became horse trails-were cleared with that saw which was also handy as a machete. It was mine—it made me powerful enough to cut wood too! It made me feel like I too could contribute—even when I was 6 or 7 years old and underfoot.

A Discover link on horse behavior. Horses are very loyal friends.


Kat Mortensen said...

I like this, Mo; I'll give it some thought and see what I come up with.


Maureen Hurley said...

Hey Kat!

Thanks—boy is this one ever raw and hot off the press. I've no idea where all that angst came from—I started out writing about a saw-fergawdsakes, and this whole other story came unbidden. I was out in Point Reyes Station last week to do a poetry reading, and I stopped for a latte at Toby's Feed Barn—which has long since gotten all Gucci-wucchi and morphed into a yuppie store—and suddenly my two worlds imploded at the incongruity of it all. Will let it sit for a while—gotta go—off to kitty sitting for a neighbor. TTFN.


Kat Mortensen said...

Well, I liked it! Angsty stuff is my cuppa tea.

I'm about to post my own, so stay tuned!