I can barely drag the box
to the basement stairs. The unassembled
shelving unit slides out of my hands
the last ten steps, crushes a cardboard corner,
and splinters a piece of plywood.
I should have waited for help,
but as my father used to say,
Shoulds are just needles
you poke in your own eyes.
I shimmy the rest of the boards out,
plus twenty slotted braces and beams
pegged with rivets. For all my hands know,
they might be parts of a windmill
or some giant erector set clanging
its warning on the concrete:
Hard—this will be painfully hard
for inept, grown-up sons of handy fathers.
And where are your shoes? Idiot,
he would have said. Socks are no protection
against suburban shrapnel—razor blades,
splinters, dropped glass pitchers.
Steel is unforgiving, death-dealing, the stuff
scimitars and howitzers are made of.
I can hear him rattle off another saw:
Whether the pitcher hits the stone,
or the stone hits the pitcher,
it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.
The instructions are ripped
and inscrutable in all five languages.
I have to balance the first two pieces
in place, with no hands left
to secure the third. Nowhere
on the box does it say
Stop! You can’t do this alone. You need
a handy father, someone with a sense
of how parts fit together, how they fall apart.
After the brace detaches and gashes my toe,
I curse in the voice of my father. He
would have shaken his head at the way
the shelves wobble, clucked at the blood
soaking through my sock and turned
his back on the extra piece I still hold
in my hand like an undriven stake.
First appeared in The Naugatuck River Review, Winter 2012