Saturday, August 13, 2011

in the shadows of my Dad and Whitman

Men, their siren sounds    Morning again brings me closer to the sounds of men working. Since taking on the renovation of the 100 year old building next door, I have learned those sounds, discerned the interactive chords of their cacophony. Not hearing notes from saws and hammers, planes and drills, causes concern. Why have they stopped? What is the meaning of their random pause?

Admittedly, the wheeze and ripping zing of metal blades on wood and plastic and metal terrified me at first. That combination of sounds without verbal accompaniment produced an other worldly melody, the song of hard work, the lyric of construction. Indeed, I often felt shocked as if I were in the midst of an unnerving dissonant battlefield.

At the end of the day, there is a truce of sorts, a time when quiet inspection connects unplugged tools and scissor lifts to what they've built or torn down that day.

What progress there is can often be measured by the intensity of sounds as they yield to the quiet grunt of men pushing against scheduled inspections to do less noisy finishing. Those sounds, I tell myself are still a week away.

Of course, I said the same last week. "We'll be ready to resurface the floors," I'd said to anyone who'd listen, not knowing whether mine was wishful thinking or something more positive. Sounds I would hear would bring answers.

Or should I say, sounds I wouldn't hear. There was the silence of contractors who didn't show up or didn't return calls. There was the missing conversation with workers who weren't there to paint and sand, to hold and carry, to be here or there.

Those days there would be no harmony until a rhythm asserted itself in concert with work that was ongoing, that had to get done, that didn't sound exactly as it had days before. On those days, I discovered, there would be a new set of sounds, less frequent, less symphonic, the work of a smaller choir.

What I wonder now, as I struggle to end the work I started as I wrestle with unanticipated mysteries each day brings, is whether I will have identified the peculiar signature of this project's theme, the melodies that define it. When all is done, will I yearn to hear them again, perhaps with slight variation, at another site? Will I come to think of what I heard as music, and the radio that was never turned off as background noise?

I have learned to listen carefully to the sounds of men at work. Those sounds convey the essences of achievement and danger, of transformation and intelligent design, of accord and the thrill from simple and difficult things done well, often at the same time. Over the past weeks, I've come to treasure those sounds as they pound and pulse through me, as they empower me with their energy.

What I hear conveys the feeling of joy those sounds bring, the commingling of energies, the union of laborers and their different skills, the creation of something new, the sound it makes on completion when all the men have left their sounds behind.

B. Koplen 5/28/11

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