Voice of Bob Vila
My father's bed straps, barely slack enough
to let him lift a spoon to mouth.
Mix of monitor beeps, someone pounding
pills to dust to mix with food,
and from down the hall, a voice
like Bob Vila, as if his tools stand a chance
to fix a body that won't work.
No sign a man will stop
stripping down to wrinkled skin
three times a morning. No sign the nurses want
tools to calm the hard case men.
I imagine dementia, gray rodent of prey
chasing a man from behind, unseen,
breath moist on a man's nape.
Something alive steals
into the tile, porcelain and grout
of the bathroom no one helps my father into,
as if it's a rule of the room: Depend
on the blue pads.
Nurse tucks the blanket, a trap
to bind his legs from thrashing,
bumps and drags him back to the pillow
he meant to abandon. He tugs the catheter tube
to stop what stops his rising.
Tugs make blood in the urine.
On the wide windowsill, against nurse orders,
I sit to watch as they turn him, clean him—
Bob Vila's voice cheers me some,
the easy way he plans, hands on invincible hips,
tool belt slung below the waist,
the way I watched him once, a spring runoff
not even his backhoe could climb,
chugging up the mud drive,
sliding off the turns. I've not yet
seen for myself, Bob
or his tools or what in this place stands
for things we can do, things we still can fix.
Occasional evenings after supper
I enter the garage with my father.
We hammer, saw, sand, talk,
sometimes just work in silence.
Cold nights our breath diffuses
as he works his wood, all his tools
in line on a pegboard wall.
Our sanded pine feels like silk,
bears a scent that penetrates our skin.
He tells of times
he rode with his own father, helping
stuff letters and bills
into the tunnel shapes of rural mailboxes
an arm's reach from the car.
And he told how his grandfather
longed to be an artist, filled sketchbooks
with penciled local landscapes:
a water wheel, children on a rail fence,
trees hugging a white clapboard house.
But artists weren't thought respectable
in small nineteenth century towns in Kentucky.
He became a tinsmith, worked the tin
like minor works of art, made a good life.
My father shows me how he works
his old wooden planes to shape ogees,
fancy edges for a table or shelf.
He won't let me work the tools,
I work them now, nail set and saw,
his father's claw hammer, its ash handle
deep amber, generations of oils,
sweat and blood stains,
scent of the blacksmith,
fire and turns of forged iron.
Gayle Reed Carroll has taught Art in public
schools, and calligraphy at Carnegie Mellon University and in the Mt. Lebanon,
PA Adult Education program. She earned an AB in Art at Hood College and an MFA
in Graphic Design at CMU. In the early nineties she began writing poetry,
studying with Stephen Dunn, Kenneth Rosen, Jan Beatty, and Ellen McGrath Smith.
Her work has appeared in several small magazines and anthologies, including Poet
Lore, The Comstock Review, Black River Review, Voices from the Attic, and
The Innisfree Poetry Journal. Her first chapbook manuscript, Irretrievable
Music, was selected as finalist in the Keystone Chapbook Prize 2009 from
Seven Kitchens Press. An earlier version of her current book manuscript, A
Marked World Deeply, was named a finalist at Marick Press under a different
title. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.