Friday, June 10, 2011

Kessler's Coffin Factory by John Bargowski

Mr. Bargowski's poem recently appeared at Poetry Daily.

Kessler's Coffin Factory
Ogden Avenue, Jersey City

Hot days the workers
threw open the shop doors
and the neighborhood buzzed
with the rip of their saws
through the seasoned planks
of walnut, birch, and maple.
Pine shavings piled inches
deep on the floor oozed sap
over the steel-toes of the aproned man
who stood hours turning scrollwork
while near him another burnished
stacks of brass cornices and grips,
and the friendliest, saddled
with a sagging belt of hammers,
mouth bristling with nails,
tacked nameplates and sterling crucifixes
to each finished box,
some nearly as long as grandfather's rowboat,
others barely big enough
to hold sister's talking doll,
and after our fathers drove off
to the grind of the second shift
leaving their wives leaning out
windows to tend twisted lines of wash,
we kids on the sidewalk
slapped balls and double-dutched
through the vapor-stink of curing varnish
while over our heads the empty sleeves
and pant legs flapped when our mothers
pulley-squealed them closer
through pitched beams of light
already clogged with dust.


John Bargowski was born and raised in Jersey City and now lives with his family on a small acreage along the Delaware River in the Skylands of northwestern New Jersey. He is the recipient of a 2009 NEA Fellowship in Poetry, a 2000 New Jersey State Council on the Arts Distinguished Artist Fellowship, The Rose Lefcowitz Prize from Poet Lore, and the Theodore Roethke Prize from Poetry Northwest. His work has been published in Poetry, Gettysburg Review, Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, & Journal of New Jersey Poets, among others.

This above poem originally appeared in Poetry Northwest.


fz said...

Beautiful images of youth and time eternal yet lost to another age.

John Guzlowski said...

I received some comments passed on by my friend the poet Oriana Ivy. These come from her friend Kathleen and Oriana herself:

This is a poem I like! The reader can ‘enter’ the place of the poem and all the sensory elements become involved. It also has word choices that convey the reader back to the theme: line 4; line 8; line 20;24, and the extended metaphor of the very last line! It is a straightforward poem.


Both the specificity and the wonderful music (sound play and rhythm) of this poem show terrific craft. I esp love this image:
and the friendliest, saddled
with a sagging belt of hammers,
mouth bristling with nails

~ and then yes, the connotation of "dust" as the last word. A wonderful poem.

John Guzlowski said...

Here are some more comments passed on by Oriana Ivy:


Just glorious poem to read aloud! I even heard a contemporary Dylan Thomas voice, giving us a lesson in sound and medial rhyme..............who is this poet?!! 2 sentences this whole poem.


I'm grabbed by how "real" this poem is. We're right there with them. That's good writing! My imagination sparks and I can almost feel my brain-electric - I connect the images of the men crafting coffins, (empty) as the women do their daily chores and the laundry sleeves and legs are also empty, foreshadowing the eventual death of those who make the coffins. Thanks, it is a fine poem to study!

My father was a woodworker and I saw him working at his bench as I read this poem. The scent of sawdust sweetened my childhood.