On Saturday mornings we carried the acrid-scented lengths
of copper pipe to his pickup in the Supply lot.
My father bought a bag of fittings, elbows and t-joints,
a yard of emery paper, flux and solder. At the site
I polished the inside surface of the female ends, holding
in my mind a vague image of a different coupling,
cut the pipe to his order and laid the pieces out.
He worked with pencil, chalk, a snap-line
and scraps of paper, or just wrote on the two-by-fours
through which the joined pipes would run.
Numbers he spoke mostly to himself took shape;
lighting a cigarette, he soldered the joints, wiping up
the drip of silvered metal because he wanted his work
always to be clean.
We ate our lunch beneath the branches of the copper tree
rising from the basement of a house without walls.
I melted down chunks of lead in an iron basin
over the roaring propane tank to seal the heavy junctures
of the sewage pipes, helped him lift into trenches
the cold terra cotta and the galvanized steel.
He taught me the correct way to cut a pipe and clean it,
how to handle the heavy ladle of hot lead.
the first test of water running in the pipes
and memorized the necessity of his skill and labor
on those chilly mornings, of making ends meet.
This poem was submitted to us at the suggestion of Robert Bly.
Help us help men
Every $20 helps!
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