Wannabe Handyman Looks in Mirror, Sees Wannabe Poet
Handyman kind of man you wish you were but aren’t
never were never will be never ever heard the call.
Whether workaday pro or weekend warrior
admiration mixes with envy as naturally as hammer & nail
for man who builds swing set & jungle gym for grandchild lickety-split
man who plugs leaks tunes engines remodels bathrooms kitchens
man who never met do-it-yourself project he doesn’t fall in love with.
Good man, honest modest reliable hardworking kindhearted bedrock blue-collar
humble-but-proud to show before & after images evidence of vision & skills
to turn useless ugly rubble wreckage or what was once big fat nothing
into something fixed up spruced up needed wanted useful
maybe even beautiful.
Handyman, which isn’t to exclude women, no ma’am.
You’ve known many women every bit as handy as handiest of men
including two exes who could build backyard fences & treetop owl houses solo
& feel as at home in Home Depot as you’d feel orphaned
exes who could decipher poorly written repair manuals with skills of U.N. translators
while you shuddered with shameful impotent illiteracy lucky to know
how to light pilot or find main water valve.
But you’re a man, damn it, you grew up in age when men were men
expected to be handymen not poets although theoretically two aren’t mutually exclusive
but let’s face it: back in the day men who did both weren’t men
they were gods
either that or fairy godfathers.
It’s not that you’re still haunted daunted
by that rusty ethos at ripe age of seventy
& it’s not that one’s handyman IQ renders gender ID
but you kind of are & it sort of does.
Handyman, you admire envy each & every man who so naturally patiently
tinkers endlessly until thing’s just right
man who inspects respects tools knows tools expertly
like singers know notes, like techies know codes
like lovers know each other’s bodies.
You’re not one of those men you’re not handy man.
Never were never will be never got the call.
Poetry man kind of man you aspire to be always did always will.
Man yearning to confront yawning terrifying seductive void
of blank page with inventory of intellectual emotional spiritual
dump-cum-recycling center of his mind
its astounding wealth of knowledge & equally astounding dearth
its demented fragmented dreams its true & false & fuzzy & vivid memories
its trauma & trivia fantasias & fandangos its gladness & sadness
guilt & giddiness & godlessness
kind of man who imagines transforming blank page
into rhythm & rhyme & reason
into grand passion or miniature meditation
over the top or under the radar.
Something worth reading something artistic
moot whether it’s neither needed nor wanted
something in you demanding commanding expression
something that calls to you something
you have no choice but to answer
private punishing personal pursuit
that’s joy & burden blessing & curse
ineffably satisfying insufferably frustrating
slog & sail in zone all its own
sacred & sublime
as lonely as homesickness
as lovely as home away from home.
Since retiring in 2013 after more than thirty years as a daily newspaper copy editor and weekly columnist, Robert Eugene Rubino has published poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction in various literary journals, including Forbidden Peak Press, The Esthetic Apostle and Hippocampus. He’s old enough to have seen Willie Mays at the Polo Grounds and smart enough to solve Monday’s New York Times crossword puzzle (other days not so much). He lives in Palo Alto, California.
"I first got the inspiration for 'Wannabe Handyman Looks in Mirror, Sees Wannabe Poet' a year ago when my girlfriend’s building-contractor son-in-law showed me before-and-after photos of a project he’d recently completed, turning rubble into a beautifully restored home. I’ve always admired and envied men who possessed what I consider advanced handyman skills. And, as I say in the poem, I’m certainly aware that women can be as handy as the handiest of men, but growing up as I did in the 1950s and 1960s there was an unspoken gender identification attached to one’s handyman aptitude. Secretly I’d always felt somehow deficient in the masculinity department because I possessed almost no such aptitude. When this contractor, whom I greatly admire far beyond his handyman skills (he’s smart and fair-minded and generous — a classic good guy) showed me his before-and-after photos, I imagined showing him before-and-after photos of a different sort: first, a blank page or, better yet, a dozen crumpled
pages representing a dozen false starts; then, after countless hours of hard work, presto, like magic, a poem.
A reader of an early draft of the poem questioned the validity of the piece’s conflict, pointing out, rightly so, a man can be both a poet and handyman. Well, yes, of course. But back in the day, a man who was both wasn’t a mere man, he was a god. Either that or a fairy godfather. Besides, it occurred to me that, on a craft level, writing a poem isn’t unlike, say, turning a debris-strewn lot into something 'fixed up spruced up needed wanted useful maybe even beautiful.'"