How It’s Done
The clock holds its hour and the light grows red.
Wherever I am I have not been gentled into it.
I didn’t end up angry, I started out angry
and I ended up here.
The difference between yes and not no
is a thin sheet of metal pressed between tongue and palate,
flavored electric. No one can taste it but you.
Every morning you wake up and tune the instrument
of yourself, play yourself to the day’s hard music.
Clock has hands, hands have blades, blades
slice finer. Soon you tune yourself
every hour, every minute, every second.
I take my hands off to go to bed,
screw them back on in the morning.
Better not to leave yourself armed all night.
Body a conundrum you revisit, wearily, at dawn.
After moonstrung respite, break from meter.
Clock has hands, hands have blades, my hands
keep rising like they have something to conduct.
Look, here’s how it’s done:
what I can’t carry I put down,
what I can’t put down I carry.
Review by David Memmott
I think of this poem as a solid waking dream. Along the lines of Dan Overgaard’s “Return” stage in his poem, “The Sleep Cycle,” but the poet’s vision here packs a lot of meaning into the clock/body,” with the speaker waking up angry, electroshocked into morning. “…you wake up and tune the instrument of yourself, play yourself to the day’s hard music.” Setting time, so to speak, in a mechanical state. The hands are blades and “slice finer.” Time is divided and divided down into smaller fragments. The speaker’s hands “keep rising like they have something to conduct.” And the ending, then, speaks directly to the reader, “Look, here’s how it’s done: what I can’t carry I put down, what I can’t put down I carry.” I feel a similar movement in waking as a clock and becoming grounded as I felt with the robin and flightless bird in “Nesting.” Both poems are beautiful in their realization.
Review by Dan Overgaard
This poem is painfully brilliant, like the edge of a worn but endlessly honed knife, set down for the night to wait for duty tomorrow. “I take my hands off to go to bed, screw them back on in the morning” is a powerful image; the hands are simply tools, the body is the instrument that moves the tools, and the speaker moves the body to the pace of the merciless clock. Work is the brutal music of these instruments. These hands don’t play at anything, or pause for love. Sleep is a break, but no relief. The final couplet reminded me of Samuel Beckett’s weary, desperate phrase on how it’s done: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”