I’ve been thinking about the question of what it takes to build a house, and whether or not the first answer is necessarily money. In daydream mode, I’ve been thinking about making a place, about doorways and windows, floorboards and sinks and stairways. I’ve also been trying to shift this from the stuff of daydreams to actual action. Do I know what needs to be known to build a small house?
I spent some time today looking through the big book Shelter written by Lloyd Kahn in 1973. It’s a wild, weird-ass book — a reference, a manifesto, part poetry, part how-to, a look at how people protect themselves from the elements around the world. There’s talk of gypsy wagons and housetrucks, demo and salvage techniques, working with dirt, stone, sod, and hay. There’s talk of outhouses and domes, tools, gardens, and roofs. There are hundreds of photographs, and a tremendous amount of text. Some of it is typed; some of it is in neat handwritten print with drawings and diagrams. There’s a hippie spirit to it, and an unalloyed enthusiasm for what we can do with our hands. It’s about the architecture of home. It’s giving me ideas.
[Photos from Shelter]
The first coat of finish brings the colors back up, richens them, deepens them, from a pale rawness to a sealed rich reddish, like someone blanched having the color return to their face, blood back in the cheeks. The smell of the Sam Maloof poly/oil finish — a honey-thick mix of polyurethane, linseed oil, and tung oil — has a potent vinegary singe to it. I’ve grown to like it. I also like what it does to the wood, a finish more matte than gloss. These old boards drank it up. A couple more coats to go.
It was warm enough to work outside yesterday, and I stood where the snow had melted and got close to this wood, wide yellow pine from the attic of my grandmother’s house. I spent time with sandpaper, some hours, bringing the surface from splintery to smooth. They’ll be tables for my brothers.
It was good to smell it. Through the mask, as the freckle red dust floated and reddened the snow piles nearby, I could smell the attic. Dust filled the creases in my lefthand palm, clung to my wrists, settled on my braid, entered my nose and lungs. My grandmother’s house is gone now, and I liked that part of the house was on me and in me like this.
With sanding, you start with the roughest paper first, real grit, and move up finer and finer grades, each sandpaper piece smoother as the wood follows suit, and finally to a soft torn-up old shirt.
Boards buffed smooth, I came in from outside and Jonah put his lips to the back of my neck. “You smell like wood,” he said.
So many people were posting links to Getty Image’s new “Lean In Collection" of stock photos of women, and I finally took a look. These were a few that were particularly cool to see. (With many more of women in the trades to be found when you scroll through the whole collection.)
Pretty good typo in the latest draft of the book.
When Andre Dubus died, his sons built him a coffin. It was “a simple pine box with a domed lid,” and it took the brothers all night to build it.
One morning on a job, M. got a call from a guy she used to work with, another carpenter. He called to tell her he was dying, that there was cancer everywhere. He told her that coffins cost four grand. He told her that he had a buddy who was going to build him one out of plywood and two-by-fours for two-hundred max.
A retired thoracic surgeon named Jeffrey M. Piehler is dying. With the help of a friend, he built a coffin for himself. “A plain pine box,” he writes in a beautiful piece in this past Sunday’s New York Times. “My own plain pine box,” an “elemental final mix: me and wonderful old wood.”
Guys, I’ll be mostly away from the Internet for the next ten days or so. Stay well and warm in the meantime!
[Hammerhead drawing by Joseph McVetty]
by Brian Foley
Paperback / 80p. / Poetry / $14.95
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The debut full-length poetry collection from Brian Foley, The Constitution boldly disrupts and troubles the beliefs we take for granted about ourselves and the rights we hold as true. While investigating ideas of home, love, morality, and loss, the poems also reflect back upon themselves, offering “amendments,” that question and rethink the poems that precede them. Taken together, the poems of The Constitution reveal the instability and flux of the principles we use as the foundation of our selves.
Brian Foley is the author of four chapbooks, and his writing has appeared in the Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Real Poetik, Action Yes, and the Volta. He lives in Western Massachusetts, where he runs Brave Men Press with E. B. Goodale.
I’m very excited for this. Also, excellent cover.
If you could only recommend one book, which would it be?
‘Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It’s my narrative alpha dog. There’s something deeply medicinal about it, a favored and highly reliable drug. As a writer you can just keep tearing off little pieces of it, translating them into new languages, using them as putty for your own projects, and the body of it is just never diminished. Is there a story the Metamorphoses doesn’t somehow already contain? Probably, but it still comes close to being the most complete, and dangerous, narrative weapons locker there is.’
Says Ben Marcus in an interview. I managed to miss the Metamorphoses when I studied classics in college, and read the Allen Mandelbaum translation last spring. I was living without internet or a TV and read it every night after dinner and it ranks as one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in years and years and years. Deeply medicinal, yes, lovely, violent, moving, gruesome. Our stories are the same stories, told over and over, shape changed and changing, and still the same. “In all this world, no thing can keep its form. For all things flow; all things are born to change their shapes.”