Saturday Apr 13

NienowMatthew Matthew Nienow 's first book, House of Water, is forthcoming from Alice James Books in October 2016. His poems have appeared in two editions of Best New Poets (2007 and 2012), Beloit Poetry Journal, Crazyhorse, New England Review, Poetry, and many other magazines and anthologies. A 2013 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellow, he has also received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. He lives in Port Townsend, Washington with his wife and two sons, where he builds custom wooden paddle boards.


Many years I held the list
of a sailboat as my greatest fear
for it seemed I was always
about to spill over one edge
of myself into another version
of what I could not say, for I
had no idea what it was
that held me fast to the earth,
and my knowledge of the small
boat’s underside was clear:
nothing there but the slit
through which a dagger board
could slide. I had maybe half
an idea of how the leaning
put the weight of the water
on our side, but many times,
in small lakes, I had gone over
and found myself once more,
still alive, even in the middle
of my fear, but the larger
boats I’ve learned to love
had more need than a single
board could answer, for the cant
could make a monster
of a boat’s fair lines were it not
for a small mountain of mined
lead poured into the shape
of the architect’s design,
blocked and bolted through to
the backbone’s wooden members
that under way she could
dip her rails and keep
a friendship with this movement,
so that now I might say a love
has grown in me, for
the impossibly heavy.

In the Shop, a True Edge is Possible

there, where a dozen sets of blades wait to estimate
the wood’s potential, that warm open grain
honey-toned in the white light as it emerges
from the planer, and 10,000 crescent shavings dance
atop the new planet of the plank, until, borne into
my hands, I crank down the cutterhead and feed

it again and again into this machine that makes,
as best as it knows how, a calibrated version
of the truth, which might be repeated to whomever asks

after the stock’s dimensions, here, where the work is to make
from one body one body while a cloud rises,
thickening in the air, yellowing the light,

and a heap of shavings hush underfoot, above which,
laid across the length of two benches, glows
the beauty I covet, already betrothed to that idea, that

accuracy that lives beyond fact, somewhere between
the made and the living thing,
before it was ever worked.

Ode to the Preacher Jig

To make the makeshift
jig, one must only reach

into the box

the bandsaw’s bed, plates
of doorskin scrap

and cedar wedges, mahogany
this-and-that’s for some odd

job on nearly any day. Simple as it is
amazing, that from this waste a tool,

for working blindly and precise,
might rise in crude form,

flaking at its edges, true only
at its corresponding points,

where passes no divine
correspondence, yet

a chosen version
of the world: keep this,

cut that. And the rest of the story
belongs to the wood.