Cathexis Northwest Press

© 2018 

Wannabe Handyman Looks in Mirror, Sees Wannabe Poet
00:00 / 04:47

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.'"