Poem for Adults

 

Photo courtesy of Robin Koontz.

 

Poem for Adults

The Vise

 

The vise was already well-used by the time

I was born. Perhaps you bought it used,

or just used it often. I would climb

onto your work bench, drawn by smells

of oil, leather, and rags, awed

by the tools placed in easy reach —

fascinated most by the red vise

bolted to a short end of the bench.

Was it the color that attracted me most,

so alluring among all the workaday

grays and browns? Was it the raspy teeth,

almost delicate, yet strong enough

to grip and hold much bigger things?

Was it the little lever that swung up and down,

down and up? Or was it the way the vise

worked, so quiet, like you; so reliable,

like you. When my brother was old enough

to climb on the workbench, we took turns squeezing

each other's fingers in its jaws, never hurting,

just testing, for we learned by your example

that harming human flesh was not the work

of tools or humans. You are gone, the vise remains,

over a century old, its red barely discernible,

its function unimpaired. Like you,

the vise was there to hold us

steady and upright.

Behind the Poem

This poem is based on one of my very early childhood memories: that of my brother and me playing on my father's long workbench in the cellar. When I first started writing the poem, I had no idea where it was going. But the poem, or perhaps the memory, knew its direction and ended up honoring my father.   — Bg