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Man Tearing Down a Chimney.

1st Prize in the Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest
 He wheels his pick-up into the drive, munching gravel, casting a wake
of white dust. The gears rev taking the hill, and the metal bars and
crossbars that will
rise into staging, a giant Meccano set, thunk and roll, banging and
clanging the trunk in which happy retrievers have stood, ears blown
back, in which sheets of plywood
have lain next to big black toolboxes, been shoved aside by cardboard
boxes, been stained by ducks shot down, their blood forming runnels all
the way home from the gut.
It's not his way to sneak up on it. He won't kick or taunt or
insult it. The clanging and revving and crunching serve as warning to
the rotting, mulching
brick, the hard-baked brick, the flaking, cracking, chipping, weakening
brick taking hold of the house like a battered hero clung to a cliff
wall, praying he'll see tomorrow.
The chimney and the man have both reached their thirties, but he is
limber, lithe. Each day he better fits his torso; his arms and legs
become like tools, gleaming--they beg
to be used fully, without restraint, and in moments such as this, when
an ending must be ushered in before it collapses onto a child, a dog, a
car, or crashes
through the roof. The red tower of clay still pleases the eye, dividing
the house, the sky beyond the roof peak, where views involve spruce,
pines, marshes, lakes and the pall
that gathers wet and grey over the ocean on troubled mornings, like
dismal notions swept from Hades' crowded rooms-- but trees and fog
don't matter, nor upon whom
the fault lies for its half-blocked flue, its shoddiness that always
meant even two days of wood smoke might set it ablaze. The facts: it
leaks, and must be razed.
Hammer in hand, the man climbs. The sun watches, as do bulky clouds that
threaten to open, as does the woman on the ground who thinks, without
warning, of their drowned
great-uncle. He lies--Does he really? Did he wash up? Was he pulled?--in
the cemetery down the shore, due east of this new violence. He might
have lived to thirty, too. Had the sense
to begin, as his nephew does, with the soft rot, the sough-facing
sections that are so shot they need only be tapped to disintegrate and
cascade like handfuls of soil straight
back to earth, where all dead things land. But first, a moment when both
stand together. The man leans forward to whisper, or to listen for old
fire vapours
in the flue (like watery songs in seashells), or simply to establish his
footing on the shingles. Bells, she calls for bells, as arm and hammer
swing. O brick, O uncle, O clamour.
Descending a mountain can be more trouble than scrambling up. Turning a
built thing to rubble is also a battle with gravity, against habit and
persistence. Try convincing a pair to split
though their union, once alchemic, no longer makes sense. This clay and
concrete have three decades of weather and smoke between them, of
stillness and height. And so, a boot is required to wrest
some pieces from the core. A phone call must be made for the delivery of
a maul. Hours pass and clouds thicken and the man now stands wide-legged
on a plank,
five or six feet up. It sags. Winds rise. Sweat streaks his arms and
neck. It's a safe bet black flies fill his ears. But the top of the
chimney lies ruined below him, a landslide of debris.
In the gable, a gaping. Along the seam, ants, the dampness they desire.
In his hands the long handle to the black weight he aims at the most
resistant brick. He gives it names,
too, this motherfucking brick, but under his breath (the woman
doesn't hear). She gapes like the exposed gable as the maul arcs up
and in. Behind the brick, the wall
fronting the living room quakes as though the gods were launching
tremors from below. He twists and heaves, tearing through space, a
dancer, believer, every ounce swung, no waste.
They sit in the kitchen, a bottle each, solemn. Every brick and chunk of
brick has fallen. A blue tarp blankets the gable hole and thin wall, and
just in time, too: rain runs down it, and all
her thoughts run alike: Here's a man who broke a chimney's
back because he knew where to hit and how hard. But no. I think his
secret was merely to start, and at the brink
of defeat, hit harder. Like a woman who's just given birth, he has
earned silence. Thus, she quells her wonder. They tip their brown
glasses. His day, in dust and shards, blankets the weeds and grasses. 
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Article Details
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Author:Lahey, Anita
Publication:Antigonish Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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