Friday, July 31, 2009


I’d passed it before, never looking in, unobtrusive in my boots and foreboding gear.

Hidden amid the side streets of Fardus Square, down a wide, sun flushed alley there, a looted shoe factory sat abandoned. No workers ‘cept three furniture makers, two craftsmen and an upholsterer, who’d adopted an open loading dock to dry freshly varnished chairs. Jigsaws and laves buzzed inside, amber and golden streaks marred the concrete floor like spilled jam, wood dust flew like pollen from the dock door and, on my second patrol of the neighborhood, it was the smell of split cedar that drew me.

I stood, smelling papery images as they shuffled in.

Cords of firewood piled along the side of my parent’s house. Kindling and fresh timber snapping with the soundtrack of the living room, the hearth projecting windy shadows – basswood and birch, hemlock and cotton wood trees – I never thought I’d miss their thick husks shucked off, falling onto the grass to choke the lawnmower. Never thought.

The unimaginable appeal of grass when there is absolutely no hope of growing grass.
I mopped the sweat from the back of my neck. Glove soaked. Face soaked.

Set on the platform, two of the furniture makers worked. I leaned against a taxi, watching them, watching the entrance to the alley where my Humvee idled.

A man and a woman straddled a new sofa like two cowboys branding a calf. One stretched heavy fabric over the frame, the other spit tacks from his mouth into a free hand to make a dotted line of brass, hammering them down with such precision and speed that it seemed like he were a machine made solely for such a thing and there must’ve been dozens of those tacks in his mouth ‘cause he went for his pocket only once. They worked with synchronicity and care, pulling taunt, aligning the tack, hitting exact – the rhythm like freight cars over train tracks.

Boys ran by.
One of them took my hand and, with out saying anything, wrote his name in English on my palm. He smiled and ran.
I tossed them a bottle of water.

The upholsterer flipped the sofa, pulling fabric around the cushion, her arms were lean and fit and tan. The man replenished his mouth with tacks and they set on another row and even though he had nearly no expression I could tell he was happy – happier than most.

The sun and the sun in the alley.
I took off my helmet.

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