A poet who grew up around the shop floor and the classics reflects on craft, and lessons from his father.
by B. H. Fairchild
Gesang ist Dasein
A small thing done well, the steel bit paring
the cut end of the collar, lifting delicate
blue spirals of iron slowly out of lamplight
into darkness until they broke and fell
into a pool of oil and water below.
A small thing done well, my father said
so often that I tired of hearing it and lost
myself in the shop’s north end, an underworld
of welders who wore black masks and stared
through smoked glass where all was midnight
except the purest spark, the blue-white arc
of the clamp and rod. Hammers made dull tunes
hacking slag, and acetylene flames cast shadows
of men against the tin roof like great birds
trapped in diminishing circles of light.
Each day was like another. I stood beside him
and watched the lathe spin on, coils of iron
climbing into dusk, the file’s drone, the rasp,
and finally the honing cloth with its small song
of things done well that I would carry into sleep
and dreams of men with wings of fire and steel.
Bert Fairchild, 1906-1990
Gesang ist Dasein, singing is being, is the title of a poem by Rilke, glossed a while back by Robert Hass in his Poet’s Choice column.