Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Spirit Level Lady

No more clocks and calendars (detail) - Oil on paper - CB 2009

I wrote the following prose poem after a visit to one of my favourite places in the US - Geier & Bluhm Spirit Level Factory in Troy, Upstate New York. (Click here to see Questions of Balance, a body of work that arose from that time and that incorporates these 'instruments of poise'.) 


This is not the first time she's been here. Anticipation makes her 
clumsy. She brings the door knocker down - too hard, Helen. Too loud.

But wait.

She’s not inside the building yet, is standing still on the rough side of the door, 
wood and woman momentarily chagrinned on the tatty outskirts of Troy.

Tugboats. Traffic. Trains. Impatient calligraphy of sound. She hovers 

on the red brick steps at the high tide mark. Above the factory keeper's door, 
neither plaque nor polished bell; instead a weather-worn lintel, 

tough as a loved old face - grooved, striated, shocked rigid by age – 
and four strong numbers staking their claim. 

One. Nine. Zero. Seven. Nineteen hundred and seven. 

She cannot help herself, quickly does the sums: one plus nine 
equals ten plus zero plus seven equals seventeen. Seven plus one equals eight. 

Of course - the perfect number for sanctuary and business.

Behind the un-carved door, the double shuffle of footsteps. David.
Russell. They click back the latch, usher her in. Men of few words

they’re all shyness and grace, manage Hello and thank you 
and how have you beenHelen checks an inappropriate thought; Heavens alive, Woman

You want to take your shoes off? You can’t; this is a factory!

It’s a chapel. I must. 

In her head – where, mercifully, everything is possible – she does both. 
Upstairs, on the factory floor, her eyes adjust to the light. 

Three silhouettes – sacristans dressed in deep purple
overalls - look up, nod and continue about their business. Helen hears

humming. Where are the choristers?  The darkly-timbred pipe organ? And then
she recalls the previous time, late afternoon industry striking up music,

the pedal-board bellow of wind amongst lathes; the percussive shlip shlop 
of slip over metal and slurry over glass. She remembers the mellow undertones

of ochre flocculent in a small harbour basin, glass tubes oscillating 
in a modest side room. Here, now, Russell urges her to touch, pick up the pieces, 

take photographs. She runs her fingers over tall mesh racks, shining bronze mushrooms; 
cools her cheeks on damp clay moulds. A little further on, a blackened steel workbench

is the night sky laid out for the taking - constellations, planets, glowing glass moons. 
You work in the apse of a cathedral! She exclaims. They smile. Say nothing. Keep walking. 

In the furthest corner of the last small room, Helen finds Frances
focused on her task. Each glass vial is given a two-minute circle

of attention. She has the capture and release of bubbles down to perfection. 
At the end of the day, it’s Frances who makes these fragile spirits

soar - every piece a perfect promise. Helen asks her if she remembers how it felt 
to be a girl, barefoot in a light cotton sundress, blowing soap bubbles in a garden? 

She leaves wanting nothing more than to skip and dip a wire wand 
into a glass jar sticky with dishwashing liquid and glycerine.

CB – 2010

Catherine Fitchett is this week's editor on the Tuesday Poem hub where she has posted 'The Olduvai Gorge Thorn Tree' by North Carolina poet, Sarah Lindsay


newsflashnewsflashnewsflash. . . . .flashnewsflashnewsflashnews

Ann Kjellberg - editor of special press, Little Star - has posted the poem Phi by Tuesday Poet, Melissa Green on the press website. Ann is instrumental in seeing that Melissa's exceptional books - her poetry collections The Squanicook Eclogues and Fifty-Two, and her memoir, Colour is the Suffering of Light - be reissued. You can show your support and add your name to the motivating petition by clicking here


  1. Dear Claire, I loved the prose poem so much. Such a lightness of touch, the wishes kept tightly in, the lovely way she sees the beauty of the work and the workers. Very beautiful. And thank you very much for the unexpected 'news flash'. xo

  2. Dear Claire, I've been watching the devastation in Christchurch all afternoon and at moments I feel as though my heart is breaking. Poor, beautiful Christchurch. After weeks of wondering how much Queensland can take, this happens, again, and worse, to Canterbury. All those people innocently going about their lives, work, school, shopping. It doesn't bear thinking about. My heart goes out to your country. I hope you and yours are all safe. Carol xx

  3. For today, the pebble )O(, for I want to return and read all I've missed here. Just know I stopped by. xo

  4. Dear Melissa, Carol, Steve and Marylinn - - - I am a little discombobulated these days, a few steps behind (behind what? I couldn't find a word to qualify that bit). . . it's taken me a while to return to this post and find your comments.

    Melissa - the factory really was like a chapel. I felt like very much at home there, and too, like a privileged visitor. If safety regulations would have allowed it, I would have taken my shoes off, as a sigh of respect as well as to read the pulsing, whirring, humming with my bare feet. xo

    Carol - thank you for your care and concern for the people in Canterbury. It really has been harrowing on many different levels. Those of us just hours away cannot quite get our heads around what's happening just hours away. There's a palpable feeling of shock in the air. Friends are safe, though a number have lost their homes and/or businesses. Everyone in the community there is living with uncertainty, wondering I think, about 'where to from here?' I feel so for the Queensland community, too; the realities of 'life as we knew it' literally swept or shaken away. . . In both situations, everything has become about community and connecting. Society the world over seems to have lost contact with these most fundamental and precious things - how in the end life is really all about the relationships we have with and to each other. Love to you, Carol - and thank you for yours, Claire xo

  5. Steve - thanks for walking through this space with me.

    Marylinn - your presence and pebbles always appreciated. Thank you xo

  6. loved your words Claire...thanks for sharing

  7. Wayne - hello, and welcome to this space. I have only just seen your comment here (a month and a bit since you posted it. . . thank you for taking the time to write, and my apologies for not responding sooner.). I do hope you will come again. Best, Claire