Stephen Robertson

Slanting Lines

The bench

At one end of the bench in the garage sits

a miniature wooden eight-drawered chest

given to me (budding carpenter) as a child

for nails and screws.  At some more ordered

stage of my life (certainly long before

the children arrived) I divided each drawer

into four or more sections, with plywood strips

carefully cut and glued.  And labelled the front—

Nails: tacks, panel pins, ovals and round;

Screws: small, size 6, size 8, large.

Beside it stands another of much later age:

a plastic chest with small, clear plastic drawers

—unlabelled, but the nuts and bolts and washers

are visible within.

Gathered round about, a motley crew

of categories in boxes, jars and tins:

the larger bolts and nuts and washers,

flooring nails, staples, cuphooks, clouts

masonry nails, screw-eyes, picture hooks

wallplugs, rivets, self-tapping metal screws,

rubber tap washers and fibre sealing rings.

The jars hang from their lids, nailed to

the shelf above.  The boxes and tins are stacked

in increasing disorder along the back

of the bench, as far as the window.

Some of the contents and all of the containers

once had other uses.  The plastic boxes

were made for slides or toothpowder, tins

for cocoa or throat lozenges or metal polish,

jars for all sorts of jams and pickles.  Washers

and nuts and bolts and screws and hooks

were saved from all sorts of deconstructed

objects: defunct household gadgets,

broken furniture, shelves no longer

serving any useful purpose.

The clutter covering the remainder of the bench

is piled uncontained and unconstrained.

Unused parts from finished or abandoned projects,

pieces half-constructed or half-deconstructed,

for some architectural or mechanical purpose

now half-forgotten.  Electrical components.

A pair of cast-iron supports for an old

high-level lavatory cistern, wonderfully

ornate.  A pump and valves from a washing machine.

An electric fan.  The dial of a clock.  Another dial,

from a stand-on weight scale.  A device

for demonstrating electricity to children:

a wooden board on which are mounted

battery box, switches, lights, buzzers, plugs

and connecting leads.  Another pair

of brackets, this time for a wooden curtain pole,

two and a half inches in diameter (the pole

itself and four-inch rings surely to be found

elsewhere in the garage).

The bench was once

a kitchen dresser, already ancient in

the damp basement of the Peckham house

that we bought some forty years ago.

One of the legs had rotted half away.

But a new piece of four by two turned it into

a perfect workbench—the cuts and holes and scars

from saws and hammers and screwed-on wood-

and metal-working vices added to those

caused by generations of kitchen knives.

Clearance time.  What can I possibly salvage

from all this?