Fear of the Nail
darkened the concrete floor
garage—I could smell them as I poised
father's workbench, ready to hoist
onto the top shelf of the tool closet.
in the last unexplored corner
too-traveled house, hidden treasure was waiting.
the chief pleasure in finding
long lost is the dusting-off,
it's lead soldiers or spacemen
bug-like moving parts. Even now,
I'd die to
handle such specimen toys
little boy's hands—small,
chapped. I chinned myself up,
the dark, coughed cobwebs up.
roamed over boards, finding roughness
roughness of maple, in terms of splinters,
identical. No treasure.
had stolen it! Not only that, I was stuck
shelf and couldn't go back—with only
grim thought to sustain me:
now, when they searched the garage,
nothing but skin and bones left
chubby self. To no avail, I'd learn to eat spiders,
from dust. But before the last days
themselves out, I glimpsed a grayness of light
outside, tried to crawl over whisper-thin slats,
crashed through. I fell on a stack
boards. "Look!" My Dad yelled,
the rescue, in time for the bawling out.
he yelled again, pointing down at a nail
out. "It could have poked your damn eye out!"
words, and seeing how sharp the nail was
savagely coated with rust—I felt different.
Fear of the
nail had been administered.
into Ohio, we took Route 10
grandmother's house. We made the turn
paper-white birch on her front lawn. At night,
out to listen, adults sharing secrets
screened-in porch, voices fading out
traffic. "He's a good boy,
know much except baseball,"
announces, and opens a beer.
A truck on
Route 10 drowns out the next talk.
grandmother walks to the screen,
the night, that mystery she entered
left Hungary so long ago.
I feel her
breath, and there's a sweetness
back, soft through the screen. I look into her eyes,
gray, buried in wrinkles and pouches,
stares at the birch, paper white in the darkness
shoulder, and all we can hear
traffic. She's going to whisper my name,
the secret of nights in Hungary
she had to leave. A story like that
build a lifetime upon. Then my father breaks in—
Mom, take a load off your feet"—
her away from the screen.
I never guessed how tough you were,
until I had to sit beside you, all night
waiting for you to die. At least four
I got up and leaned over the bed,
for the sound of breathing, the sifting,
the faintest rattle of breath that told
you were still on this earth, though
a man between worlds. Then I fell back,
wishing I'd picked up a good mystery
instead of this book of poems. What I needed
was a page-turner, a story like the kind
you used to tell, about the night
you and my Uncle Vic defended the store
your family worked in, in one of those
mill towns shrouded in smog. A gang
came up the street and the two of you
cracked soda bottles and stood there,
weapons of glass in teenage hands,
and watched from the steps as they
drew closer, and you were eyeball
to eyeball. Then the lead guy nodded
and led his gang away, one by one,
all those tough guys, into the smoke
of that Ohio town. About four a.m.,
I leaned over and saw something better
to read on the table, one of your last
favorites—I couldn't put it down.
David Salner received an MFA at the University of Iowa Writer's
Workshop and for twenty-five years worked as an iron ore miner, steelworker,
machinist, and general laborer. His second book, Working Here, was awarded first prize in the
first annual poetry competition by Minnesota State University’s Rooster Hill Press
and was published in September 2010. His work has appeared in Threepenny
Review, Prairie Schooner, and recent issues
of The Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, The Fourth River, and Upstreet. His poem Frank Little in the Big Sky State was awarded first place in Boxcar Poetry
Review’s $500 Oboh Prize (2010), judged by