“The way things work:” reconstruction and Jorie Graham

I’m having some sort of mid-life crisis when it comes to my house. Suddenly I want to change everything: rip shelves out, move the furniture, paint every room a different color. Last night I spent hours perusing paint web sites, trying hundreds of colors on the online walls. And today I bought paint samples, despite the fact that painting the bottom floor of our house is probably the last thing I should be doing right now. How will I keep the dog and kids away from the walls? Is this how I should be spending my few free hours? But it needs to be done before the weather gets too cold, when I won’t be able to leave the windows open.

When I was growing up, my parents were very hands-on in the houses we lived in. They painted walls, stripped endless layers of wallpaper (the old kind with very stubborn glue), and even finished the basement with ’70’s paneling and tile all by themselves. Coming from that background, I often feel if there’s something around the house that needs to be done, I can figure it out. I don’t mess with plumbing or electricity, but everything else is fair game. Jeff probably worries that he will one day return from work to find I’ve taken out a wall. (He needn’t worry; I know which ones are load-bearing.)

This tendency seems to be rubbing off on my older daughter. Since she was very young, when she asked for a toy, I would suggest that we try to make it ourselves. This worked for a long time, until last week she came home from school insistent that I help her make an overhead projector, out of common household objects. A little beyond my ability, especially when trying to cook dinner at the same time.

I love Jorie Graham’s “The Way Things Work,” the first poem in her first book. It’s very reassuring to think that no matter how we hammer away at our lives or houses, “eventually something/catches:”

Wheel, kinetic flow,

rising and falling water,

ingots, levers and keys,

I believe in you,

cylinder lock, pully,

lifting tackle and

crane lift your small head–

I believe in you–

your head is the horizon to

my hand. I believe

forever in the hooks.

The way things work

is that eventually

something catches.

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