Poetry: Labor Day

September 2, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROBERT PINSKY: Poet Mark Turpin works as a carpenter, and sometimes he writes about construction with a deep, wondering appreciation. Here, for Labor Day, is Mark Turpin’s poem “The Box:”

When I see driven nails I think of the hammer and the hand,
his mood, the weather, the time of year, what he packed
for lunch, how built-up was the house,
the neighborhood, could he see another job from here?

And where was the lumber stacked, in what closet
stood the nail kegs, where did the boss unroll
the plans, which room was chosen for lunch? And where
did the sun strike first? Which wall cut the wind?

What was the picture in his mind as the hammer
hit the nail? A conversation? Another joke, a cigarette
or Friday, getting drunk, a woman, his wife, his youngest
kid or a side job he planned to make ends meet?

Maybe he pictured just the nail,
the slight swirl in the center of the head and raised
the hammer, and brought it down with fury and with skill
and sank it with a single blow.

Not a difficult trick for a journeyman, no harder
than figuring stairs or a hip and valley roof
or staking out a lot, but neither is a house,
a house is just a box fastened with thousands of nails.