My wife’s grandfather’s father spent thirty years
inside a factory, hand-polishing wooden cabinets
for RCA Victor after train-hopping across Canada
to British Columbia where he lopped off treetops
with nothing more than a handsaw for two years.
It was the most dangerous job he could find offering
the most pay. He worked the many lumber camps
saving money to bring his family all the way over
from Hungary. During the Depression, he stood
behind the chain-link fences among the whoops,
the shouts, the troops of men looking for work,
pointing only to his callouses, as if they testified
to a man’s ability to swing a hammer all day long.
That is what salvation looks like to an ordinary man
whose curses were left behind in another country,
along with poverty, cousins, wars, social unrest.
What it takes to be happy is a willingness to work
ten hours a day, for a lifetime, doing nothing
as important as polishing light mahogany cases,
later bakelite ones, until they gleam like minted
copper pennies, so your family may grow to thrive
on a small Montreal street like any other man’s.
All those years coming home from the factories
smelling of bees-wax and lint-seed oil, hanging
up a coat in a kitchen, sitting down to a meal
of thick savoury soup, was worth it, a small price
if his son could study drafting nights, as he did
during the war. A gift of no small magnitude,
which I gather is what makes a man each shift
place a cloth in hand, and with clear practise,
polish a music box, until like some masterpiece,
he hears the overture of his own triumph.
By Chris Banks
By Chris Banks