from NER 41.2
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CHAIR NO. 14
cut thin strips of wood,
beech, from the arboreous cathedrals
that glow like fire in the heart of the continent
Austro-Hungary, Germany, the Russian Empire
dry cathedrals, crackling with beechnuts underfoot
rust cathedrals, whistling in autumn under a snow sky
cut the strips along the grain, boil them in vats of glue
layer them, strip to strip, one against the next
until they make a new thing
not wood, but the sum of its parts,
wood, but not behaving like wood.
a joiner handles the timber
hand-bends it over the metal strap
feels it bend in his hands over the metal strap
supporting its tension face
laying it gently in place.
he is skilled in this intimate work
bend too far and the wood will split
not far enough and the delicate curve
of its pramhandled back won’t meet
the ring of its raffia waist.
his child is light, he lifts it
high to inspect it
so light this chair
this child of chairs
stacking into towers
when the café tiles are swabbed
makes that canteen scrape
that machine-breaking squeal
as the burghers of Europe draw themselves
closer to the table,
one hand between their legs
or two hands gripping the ring at their sides
lowering themselves anxiously, something
untrustworthy beneath them, light as an umbrella,
a veneered walking cane, a child’s hoop
holding them up. Their pleated backsides
their flattening thighs make craters of raffia
this little frame, a matchgirl’s bones
between them and the floor
here you are sir, your strudel and cream
madame, your torte
a thin student sipping at coffee
a liveried servant carrying boxes
a governess writing her postcards
a girl clutching a chairback and smiling
a boy looks up and sees her there
and she’s falling falling
a thousand silent bentwood chairs
their brittle bones upturned on barricades
their old-world curls barely distinguishable
in the morning rubble.
Note: Chair No. 14 was the first mass-produced piece of furniture in Europe. Made in the Thonet factory using the revolutionary bentwood technique, it was pretty ubiquitous by the end of the nineteenth century.
ROSARIES IN THE SAND
Say a rosary for María and Juana and Guadalupe
also for Ricardo, Jorge, Javier, and Carlos
especially the last who sat in wet pants for hours
although was it urine or tears, no one could say.
He’s got a burning wish. Something cheap and sugary
but he can’t remember anymore, it belongs to another boy.
All the rosary beads are curled in the sand like tiny snakes
And some are rattled and scattered on the asphalt
and the only god is scratchy, wondering why no one can count
and no one’s prayers are threaded right. Come on, he says,
five lots of ten, it’s like press ups or squats, you train and you get better
come on, you spiritual savages. Where are your glory be’s?
But the only sound is sobbing, like beads plopping into puddles
although there are no puddles and no beads.
Come on, says god, fingering his arse. I bought you people rosaries
and you drop them in the desert like losers. Gather them up
says god, picking his nose. Put them in your pockets.
I order you, says god. Sometimes by losing a battle
you win a scrap, notes god, taking out a vanity mirror.
He’s lost interest now, and he opens a small knife,
cleans his nails of grease and wipes the dirty blade on his hair.