The Heart & the Cupboard
Writers like the word craft. I think this stems in part from the notion that the writer-as-carpenter can fix a sentence like a broken cupboard. The modest task of attempting to speak the unspeakable becomes a bit more tactile when invoking the lexicon of tool and two-by-four. Craft ensures that the structure is true, so it can hold things on the level, snugged inside its cupboard with a gentle click.
Craft also resonates of wiles and cunning. With barely a nudge, it evokes the realm of spells and enchantment. This sense of the word serves as an echo to the first, a mystical residue that haunts the more homely sense of the word: the writer who swings a hammer and crafts a line that is perfectly plumb.
I once hired a carpenter to install a tiny wooden door.
I outlined the opening of the doorway in blue chalk, drawing in the tiny hinges as a whimsical touch. Though I’m not a bad hand, I found this a bit difficult, as the angle demanded I draw the outline upside down. I eventually employed a mirror to aid in the process. But this presented new issues, as I then had to account for the reversal, and initially thought I’d placed the little wooden knob on the wrong side.
But it was all correct. The hinges aligned with my sternum, and the wooden knob I’d selected at the hardware store was situated in my chest, about five inches below the collarbone. The doorway opened onto my ribcage, a bit like the door to a birdcage. The carpenter didn’t bat an eye as he worked, pulling a pencil from behind his ear to mark the tiny boards as we chatted and he reminisced about a birdhouse he’d once built with his father.
I had the door installed so that I could touch my heart. I planned to be a writer. My ultimate hope was to touch the hearts of others and I thought it might be a good idea to start with my own. There are other things that writers do to make their mark. I considered having clever words tattooed along my forearm, in a spare sans-serif font, so that they would creep from beneath my sleeve as I stared pensively out the window. But I’m afraid of needles.
So I had the cupboard installed. And thanks to the craft of the carpenter, the door still swings true today when I retreat to the place where I write, open it, and discover a warmth and a pulse that stills startles me, even though I know it beats beneath the surface of all living things—stirring even within the molten heart of the planet itself. Thanks to the craftiness of words, I was able to make such a door in the first place, one that is both entrance and entrancing.
That’s why writers need the whole of their craft. Because you don’t ask a carpenter to fill your cupboards. And your heart can’t float through the world on invisible wings. It needs a cupboard to hold it.
Michael Bazzett is teaching "Tell Me a Story: Evoking the Narrative in Poetry" this spring at the Loft. A long time member of the faculty at The Blake School, his poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, Oxford Poetry, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Best New Poets. He was the winner of the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for his first full-length collection, You Must Remember This, (Milkweed Editions, 2014), and his verse translation of the Popol Vuh is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.