sean ward - poems

valve lash

The shop is a man’s place, a lonely place, and
there’s nothing to think about other than the
length of a rod, the way a piston fits a cylinder,
the gap of a plug, the opening and closing of a
diaphragm, the correct order of things, quitting
time, or the hem of a skirt.

The shop is a noisy place, with the hum of the lift
as it raises and lowers, the whir of a socket on an
air-driven drill, the clang of a wrench as it bounces
from concrete, the foul mouths of mechanics with
blood on black knuckles, and the rhythmless crackle
from stereo speakers, attempting to cover the drone
of the shop fans, set high in the walls.

In the shop, things are done by feel, with
fingertips, and by hands with metal extensions:
Unclip valve cover clips. Pry valve cover off.
Ease in feeler gauge. Gauge should slip with a
slight drag. If not, loosen rockerarm nut, tighten
locknut, readjust. Ease in feeler gauge again.
When finished, check gaskets. Spill oil accumulates
in valve covers. If gasket leaks, loss of oil
may be disastrous.

In the shop, an experienced mechanic doesn’t check
the rotor to see if it points to the spark plug
contact of the cylinder of the valves to be
adjusted. He doesn’t remove part of the fan
housing to check the mark to see if the piston
is in the top center of the firing stroke. He
doesn’t start with a cold engine. He turns the
key to start her, to warm her. He listens to her combust
internally, slips the feeler gauge in as slick
fluids flow through her, and sets the valve lash
by her tone and vibration.

In the shop, the only sweet thing is whatever sweet
thing comes through the shop door or passes on the
street. No time is taken to consider Pandora or
Pandora’s box or Eve or an apple or whether or not
the shop’s dog has been named after a saint who is real.
There’s just that whistle or hey baby! Or a tap on the
shoulder and a knowing nod as they break for a moment,
their ratchets in their hands.

If Midas were a mechanic and not a king, everything
he touched would turn to grease and not gold: the
door to his home, the white linen sheets in his bed,
the veiled face of the woman he marries, her heart.
Cupid doesn’t often fire arrows in the catcalls of
oil stained men. Men regarded as thieves. Men
envisioned as remnants of broken dreams with alloy souls
who scrape at their own locked existence in the bowels
of a transmission. Men who might know Blake’s angels,
and for whom the mermaids sometimes sing.

sean ward - poems


The neighbor’s dog lifts paw to ear,
scratches at the jeweled movement
of the day, as summer weeds bend slightly,
then stand at ease, and leaves rustle
like golden sleeves of wild Burmese silk.

A lone birdsong, slow, melodic, metronomic,
carries with it the story of us, the
inner workings of our place in this time,
our crescendo, decrescendo, the rise, the
fall, each breath, distinct and forgotten.

You move me, in ways I am not prepared
to move, in ways I am afraid to go, yet
I grow the way an oak grows, and shed
skin like leaves to welcome your
feathered touch among my boughs.

sean ward - poems

the spring house

The Virginia meadow stretches out and rises
in strips of treeshadow, and the bones
of a cherry grasp at passing blue. The last
of its leaves have long since found the least
circuitous route to the ground and melted
into the green grass and passing seasons.

There is always snow in the mountains
where the atmosphere clasps it to the peak,
but it can’t be seen from the meadow
where the spring is protected.

The springhouse leans the way all abandoned houses lean
the way all the trees that cling along a coastline lean
the way clothes pinned along a clothesline lean
when put out to dry.

All places have their prevailing winds, hands
that direct the flow of things, and over time
they push everything a certain direction.
The snow capped winter melts and moves to the valley
whenever it is warm enough, and flows within
the bleached oak boards of the springhouse.

A ladel, blackened from the elements, dangles from
a rawhide noose looped about a wooden peg. The
weathered door creaks as my hands pull it open.

The water inside is flat and the round bed stones
beg for fingertips. I lean forward, reach
with the ladel, and hear his voice from years ago
when his hair first turned white, his strong hand
on my shoulder, “Don’t let the bottom fool you,”
he says. “It’s deeper than it looks.”

I drop a pebble and it suspends itself somewhere
between transparent surface and clear rock bottom
before drifting away in the current. The water
is cold and deep and swift. It tastes like winter.