D. Nurkse

Rosewood Handles

I ran through the streets before dawn.
Men were seated around fires.
A few transvestites waited in doorways.
There were signs for sales on the steel grates.
I caught the freight elevator at Pyramid,
punched in, turned on the buffing wheel.
It was a blur with pockets of force;
if a frame caught, the current kicked back.
Sometimes Iíd push in a stick of wax
and watch it dissolve, and the air turn orange.
With my left hand, I picked up the frames
Xacuma brought. Occasionally one charred
under friction; the smoke was poison.
Soon I made them glitter like knives.
Almost always, nothing happened.
The armature of the fire escape in the window
slowly filled with snow. In the corner of my eye
a gesture repeated itself, as if to find its flaw.
I heard the different pitches of the drill press,
bandsaw, router, and the familiar voices
in Spanish or Slovak, discussing birth,
marriage, rosewood frames, Five minutes early
we left, allowed to wash on company time:
the square camphor soap was free.
I drifted home through empty streets.
Sometimes a group of drunks sang rounds
or a man in a suit vest preached the Gospels.
I felt a great wind pushing me.
I paused at our vestibule.
If the light was still on I kept walking
past extrusion mills and die works.
If the light was out I tiptoed upstairs
holding my breath and lay beside you,
squeezing my eyes shut,
training myself to darkness
so I might wake and see your face.

(Prior publ. Hanging Loose)


D. Nurkse

Excelsior Fashion Products, Easter

They pay us time and a half
and donít dare catch us
drinking: we donít insist,
donít pass a bottle, but each sips
a private pint, all sitting
in the narrow room with our backs
to the center, each facing
his work--router, stain tray,
buffing wheel, drill press--
and with that sweet taste echoing
in our bones, we watch our hands
make what they always made
--rosewood handles--but now
we smile in delighted suprise
and Marchesi brings envelopes
that record a full dayís work
though itís still noon,
processions still fill the streets,
choirs, loudspeakers bellowing
Hallelujah: and we change
into our finest clothes in the locker room,
admiring each otherís hat brims, passing bottles
freely until all are empty, and at last
we separate in the brilliant street, each
in the direction of a different tolling bell.

(Prior publ. The Kenyon Review)


D. Nurkse

A Pause at Delta Assembly

When the foreman brought my pay
it was sixty dollars short.
I complained, my voice cracked,
he smiled and said,
you must have been sick.
The shop steward advised me,
file a grievance in ninety days.
I told the man beside me
on the line: he put my check
in his pocket, signaled,
            the line stopped.,
the crankcases stopped, suddenly
just things, no longer
hours cased in steel:
there was a deep silence,
a force like loneliness,
you could hear flies, high up,
rubbing against the klieg lights:
then the owner came to me
and opened his wallet, saying
I found your missing days.

(Prior publ. West Branch and Leaving Xaia (Four Way Books))

D. Nurkseís fifth book of poetry is Leaving Xaia (Four Way Books, 2000). Forthcoming new work includes The Rules of Paradise (Four Way Books, 2001) and new poems in The Paris Review and in The NewYorker. In 1996, Nurkse was appointed Poet Laureate of Brooklyn. He teaches at The New School and in the New York State prison system.