Thank you Editors Julie Howard and Chandra Mayer.
Please check out my other stories from The Bridge on Beer River, including a preview of “Message from the Vampire”: Short Stories
Our father repaired typewriters, a lost art. Here is a poem recalling his shop in the basement where he let me help him when I was young.
My Father’s Tools
Leaning over typewriter frame, hands
ink dark with calluses, my father reaches
around type bars and brackets, levers
of tempered steel, hooking a spring,
placing the smallest screw
with magnetized driver. He adjusts
to touch, aligning letters
until they flow in perfect lines,
finger strike to paper.
Broken machines wait on bench
with glass jars of spare parts,
needle-nosed pliers worn smooth,
small torch for soldering type,
hooks, benders, crimpers,
oil can with long nozzle,
cleaning tub with black solvent.
He lets me scrub the type
and pivots, bathe them in oil,
wipe them dry until they shine
like reborn souls. Now the typewriters
are gone but I keep his tools,
fixing any problem. I show my son
how to grasp each one, correct angle,
knowing the tool by its function.
He adds his layer of fingerprints,
imagining machines he will build.
This poem is included in my collection, The Poet’s Garage.
To celebrate the first birthday of my poetry collection, The Poet’s Garage, from Unsolicited Press, here’s a brief podcast of the title poem.
Based on a true story, the poem tells how we learned there was another Terry Tierney, a suspected felon, living in Lincoln, Nebraska when we moved there. My arrival aroused several official computers. The police and the social services department thought I lied about my quiet life as a graduate student supported by my tolerant, librarian wife.
Ironically, when I wasn’t distracted by writing poetry in Lincoln, I was working on my dissertation about William Makepeace Thackeray who casts his various protagonists as doubles of himself. Those doubles have much less contrast with one another than me and my apparent double.
The cover of The Poet’s Garage depicts the poem, complete with pools of grease where lines have spilled, the cardboard box of active verbs, and the files of proper nouns. As in the poem, the poet has eluded arrest, so far.
To learn more about the Poet’s Garage, please check my poetry page.
My mind conjures Jack Kerouac every time I embark on a road trip, even one driving a U-Haul truck from Kansas to California. If Kerouac made this trip I imagine Neal Cassidy would do most of the driving with the box frame buffeting in the wind and allowing Jack little sleep.
Every rut awakens clangs and screeches but the truck holds together as if it were designed to instill a fear of disintegration and encourage the drivers to keep their speed under control. Just in case, the engine has a governor at 75, ensuring that other travelers and most semis will further pummel the U-Haul in their wakes.
I wonder if the interstate highways were in better shape during the idyllic fifties of Kerouac’s crossing. We pass expanses of road work between miles of worn pavement with the occasional surprise of a smooth surface and fewer decibels of tire noise. My kidneys welcome the respite though we know it won’t last.
I also ponder how much Kerouac would recognize the towns and landscapes strung out along the freeway. The gentle hills and sinuous rivers of the plains are still there, though suburbs have gorged on farmland like concrete kudzu. They sprout with the sameness of box stores, national brands, and three-bedroom abodes, though the scenery is still striking.
Along the front range near I-25 outside of Denver mountain peaks emerge from the fog and rise above the clouds with ghostly promise. I find it hard to keep my attention on the road, a weakness Cassidy never shows, but some of the structures in rural towns and ranches must have populated his vision.
Rusty beams and leaning walls mark abandoned farms where people once raised crops and cattle. Some larger, well-kept houses, and irrigated fields reveal the continued richness of the land, but many of the acres do not include a house, only the sheds and corrals of corporate ventures. The American dream of owning a family ranch seems more a myth than ever.
Kerouac would certainly be aroused by the increasing disparities of wealth and race along with the political separation between rural and city. He would be surprised by the lack of hitchhikers and our greater distrust of others.
On Kerouac’s road the social chasms were apparent but they seemed less stark. I sense in Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and other beat writers an underlying belief that America will figure it out, even if it means transcendence more than political action, though political action is certainly a tool.
I want to believe there’s still hope for the American experiment of democracy and social equality despite our missteps and continued problems. That we can still load up our U-Haul and strike out across the country, trusting in the future. I want to believe Kerouac and Cassidy still share our road.
Check out my road novel, Lucky Ride: Lucky Ride
Here is a video of my Poetry Flash Virtual Reading 2/28/21 with Nathalie Anderson. My sincere thanks to Joyce Jenkins and Richard Silberg for their hosting and introductions. And a shout out to Nathalie for sharing her stellar poems.
I read from my collection The Poet’s Garage along with a few more recent poems.