Feb. 24, 2007

Ode to Hardware Stores

by Barbara Hamby

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Poem: "Ode to Hardware Stores" by Barbara Hamby, from Babel. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

Ode to Hardware Stores

Where have all the hardware stores gone — dusty, sixty-watt
     warrens with the wood floors, cracked linoleum,
poured concrete painted blood red? Where are Eppes, Terry Rossa
     Yon's, Flint — low buildings on South Monroe,
Eight Avenue, Gaines Street with their scent of paint thinner,
     pesticides, plastic hoses coiled like serpents
in a garden paradisal with screws in buckets or bins
     against a brick wall with hand-lettered signs
in ball-point pen — Carriage screws, two dozen for fifty cents
     long vicious dry-wall screws, thick wood screws
like peasants digging potatoes in fields, thin elegant trim
     screws— New York dames at a backwoods hick
Sunday School picnic. O universal clevis pins, seven holes
     in the shank, like the seven deadly sins.
Where are the men — Mr. Franks, Mr. Piggot, Tyrone, Hank,
     Ralph — sunburnt with stomachs and no asses,
men who knew the mythology of nails, Zeuses enthroned
     on an Olympus of weak coffee, bad haircuts,
and tin cans of galvanized casting nails, sinker nails, brads,
     20-penny common nails, duplex head nails, flooring nails
like railroad spikes, finish nails, fence staples, cotter pins,
     roofing nails — flat-headed as Floyd Crawford,
who lived next door to you for years but would never say hi
     or make eye contact. What a career in hardware
he could have had, his blue-black hair slicked back with brilliantine,
     rolling a toothpick between his teeth while sorting
screw eyes and carpet tacks. Where are the hardware stores,
     open Monday through Friday, Saturday till two?
No night hours here, like physicists their universe mathematical
     and pure in its way: dinner at six, Rawhide at eight,
lights out at ten, kiss in the dark, up at five for the subatomic world
     of toggle bolts, cap screws, hinch-pin clips, split-lock
washers. And the tools — saws, rakes, wrenches, rachets, drills,
     chisels, and hose heads, hose couplings, sandpaper
(garnet, production, wet or dry), hinges, wire nails, caulk, nuts,
     lag screws, pulleys, vise grips, hexbolts, fender washers
all in a primordial stew of laconic talk about football, baseball,
     who'll start for the Dodgers, St. Louis, the Phillies,
the Cubs? Walk around the block today and see their ghosts:
     abandoned lots, graffitti'd windows, and tacked
to backroom walls, pin-up calendars almost decorous
     in our porn-riddled galaxy of Walmarts, Seven-Elevens,
stripmalls like strip mines or a carrion bird's curved beak
     gobbling farms, meadows, wildflowers, drowsy afternoons
of nothing to do but watch dust motes dance through a streak
     of sunlight in a darkened room. If there's a second coming,
I want angels called Lem, Nelson, Rodney, and Cletis gathered
     around a bin of nails, their silence like hosannahs,
hallelujahs, amens swelling from cinderblock cathedrals
     drowning our cries of Bigger, faster, more, more, more.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Wilhelm Karl Grimm, (books by this author) born in Hanau, Germany (1786). Along with his older brother, Jacob, Wilhelm Grimm helped publish the collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales (1812), the first collection of folklore in modern publishing history.

Of the two brothers, Wilhelm was more romantic and literary, but less intellectually ambitious. Jacob did most of the theorizing about folklore, and Wilhelm did most of the actual footwork. It was Wilhelm who realized that the best people to help him gather folk stories were women, because it was women who did most of the storytelling in the first place.

So Wilhelm called upon the six daughters of his next-door neighbor to help in the project. The best collector was a pretty young woman named Dortchen Wild. She and Wilhelm would meet together on a regular basis, often in a nice spot in the countryside, and she would tell him the stories she'd heard from memory while he wrote them down. They later got married. Among the stories she contributed to the final collection were "The Six Swans" and "Hansel and Gretel."

It was on this day in 1988 that the Supreme Court issued an important decision in the history of satire in the case of Hustler Magazine v. Jerry Falwell. The court ruled that satire of a public figure — no matter how vulgar, insulting, or even false — is protected by the First Amendment.

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