Posted by: John Looker | 26 August, 2012

HARDHATS

Poem number 3 in this series:

HARDHATS

They claim to have a view up here
of ten counties and the sea,
so long as the rain holds off. Fear
is not acknowledged. Out on the ledge
they move like an Alpine team.

Delicately they manoeuvre the edge
of shining alloy-and-glass
curtain walling, ready to nudge
each piece into place with its neighbour. Day
after day, one mind, one task. 

They know the drill so well: two-way
radio to ‘him in the crane’
and ‘them on the ground’ far away;
a private language for joining the parts;
each part with their private name. 

At noon they eat and the joshing starts.
Sitting on the slab, with boots
like rooks roosting, the banter darts
along the line and the good old jokes
are flowing, nourishing roots. 

Their hi-glo logo jackets are the cloaks,
the livery, of a modern guild.
They are bound together, if not by oaths
and secret rites, by the same pay
and shared hours, by the remembered thrills
of a lightning strike, the loan of a bike,
and the round of drinks at the end of the day.

© John Stevens 2012

This is the third poem in a series “States of Mind” – the first was called ‘Dancer’. Poems still to come include “Ambassador”, “Caretaker” and “Hotshot”. The general idea is to explore states of mind that we can all encounter through work.

An earlier group of poems looking at life through work was rather different –  and has the title Spinning the World. If you are interested you can find the other poems through the list of categories in the right hand pane.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Hi John
    I enjoyed this poem, it is dazzling 🙂 the great height they must work at, and also the beauty of their skills, I have fear of heights but I almost wished I was up there 🙂 .

    Like

    • Thanks Ina – you don’t have to be, don’t worry!

      Like

  2. love at first sight!

    Like

  3. such interesting exploration you are doing…

    Like

  4. I really like the “boots like rooks roosting”. Fine work.

    Like

    • Thank you – I’m never sure what will work for others

      Like

  5. There’s always a moment, or several, in Johns poems, when the poetry becomes transparent for the subject, and I get the chills. This has happened in stanza two repeatedly. It’s a moment of absolute connection.

    Like

    • You are very generous, Tom, but I am delighted if these lines could do that. I like the idea that poetry can become transparent for the subject.

      Like

  6. Yeats has a poem—An Irish Airman foresees His Death—where mid poem, we take off; somehow—suddenly—we are in ‘this tumult in the clouds’. Your first line, John—They claim to have a view up here —does the same thing. Up here! Yeats takes us right up to ‘this death’, which I’m just as glad you don’t. Still, a view of ten counties establishes how high we are up here, and then you let us sink back in our easy chairs for a little contemplation…but maybe too soon?
    I have a friend who was once an ironworker. It’s a very intense job, no question about it. You need a steady awareness of where you are and what you are doing and what he tells me about the job fits in pretty well with this poem. For example, the simple act of giving a tool to somebody: You don’t just hand it to him, you place it in his hand and hold it until he has gripped it. Casual things like that become very important. It’s definitely a job that not everyone can do.
    You wouldn’t think the careful rhyming would work in a poem about ‘hardhats’, but it does. It fits in nicely with the delicate maneuvers between man and machine. And you are to be commended for not going down ‘the hardhats equals thick skulls’ route.
    I’m not so sure fear is not acknowledged. Not publicly acknowledged, perhaps. But I rather think ‘it is conquered and mastered’ would be a better way of putting it.
    Now, as this is a John Stevens poem, we’d better pay attention to what is left out. Hardhats, an alpine team: ‘they claim’, ‘they know’, ‘they eat’… Is it really true that they are all up there as one unit? No, I don’t think so. The companionship is very real, but each person is up there as an individual. We’ve left the immediacy of being right there, to pull back and see the whole. It’s a legitimate choice, but I wonder why. No individual back aches, tired legs, complaints about the new guy, worries about the boss, making the mortgage payments, that lump in the armpit, etc. Just camaraderie and nourishing roots.
    Still, the craft is apparent. The words ring true. The building continues. This big imposing structure dominates the sky. And then we get to meet for drinks after work. Very nice.

    Like

    • Thanks for these considered comments, Jim. I’m sure you’re right that, for the guys doing this work, there would be more stories to tell than only this one about ‘camaraderie nourishing roots’. I had a modest aim, and have not done justice to all that they experience. It is very reassuring to hear from you though that your friend’s recollections of sort of work seem to fit in well with the poem. However, you are right, there are negative work experiences to be explored through these poems, and I have something in draft that attempts to cover that – later.

      Like

  7. John, I am missing a lot lately. I don’t know why, but I don’t seem to have a lot of energy. This is, to me, a magnificent poem. It gets at the heart of what is true about a work team working in a dangerous environment, ignoring the danger, and getting the work done.

    Fear
    is not acknowledged. Out on the ledge
    they move like an Alpine team.

    Delicately they manoeuvre the edge
    of shining alloy-and-glass
    curtain walling, ready to nudge
    each piece into place with its neighbour.

    For some reason this reminds me of Theodore Roethke’s magnificent line in Meditation at Oyster River, “how graceful the small before danger.”

    I read the poem much as I read Roethke’s poem. It is not really about the workmen and their work, but about the world that an observer sees: “private language for joining the parts,” “boots like rooks roosting,” (a magnificent line), and good old jokes flowing, “nourishing roots,” the roots being the spirit that allows men to go where

    They claim to have a view up here
    of ten counties and the sea

    These are workers that do not see themselves so much, but that are more like the small shore birds in Roethke’s poem. They live lives on the edge, making a skyscraper rise above the landscape into the sky, but mostly

    are bound together, if not by oaths
    and secret rites, by the same pay
    and shared hours, by the remembered thrills
    of a lightning strike, the loan of a bike,
    and the round of drinks at the end of the day.

    They are part of the earth, not the sky, even working in the sky and changing the sky’s landscape. The observer, the poet, sees them differently, perhaps even more realistically than they see themselves. To him they are high above the ground that is far away, but they are instead simply living their lives, oblivious to the poet as observer, making the world different from the way it was before, but oblivious to that too, bound together by the small things of their lives: The remembered thrills of a lightning strike, the locan of a bike, and the round of drinks at the end of the day.

    It is the tension between the poet observer and his observations and the lives of the men as they perceive them that make the poem. It says something about how we humans are that is very deep. It says that in spite of what we do, we are still simply human, not so very aware of the specialness that is part of our work, ourselves, but filled with the moments of our lives. This insight, so very, very well said, makes this a wondrous poem.

    Like

  8. Thanks, that is very generous of you Tom. Very many thanks. I have more poems in draft for this series but I am holding on to them for the time being.

    Like

  9. Hello John, Long time no speak as it were… and it is lovely to be able to revisit to such a poem. You reminded me of that very famous poster, where labourers are sitting on a steel high up, with NY in the background, I think. There are some wonderful moments of imagery here – I too like to boots and rooks – and the pace varies in line with the direction you’re pointing us towards…
    I see all these long comments before me and wonder if I should extract more of my thoughts on it – a critique as it were? But I could see this one being performed and therefore the critique would be irrelevant as the pace and the voice is taken with enthusiasm as it leads up to the slap on the back g’night as they make their way home. Kiersty 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks Kiersty. I’m sorry to be slow in responding but I am not managing to log on frequently for the time being. I really appreciate your kind remarks. Short comments, long comments, they’re all welcome; complimentary or critical, they are all instructive feedback, so please don’t hold back on reservations.

      Like

  10. Well…I check your site once a week…I miss your poems ; )

    Like

    • That’s very kind Anna – I’m about to resume posting!

      Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: