Copper Tree

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.

Our work together was our time together.

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.

I passed by heart

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.

Ted Gilley

This poem was submitted to us at the suggestion of Robert Bly.

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