Michael Chitwood, “Men Throwing Bricks”

Men Throwing Bricks (from The Writer’s Almanac)
Michael Chitwood

The one on the ground lofts two at a time
with just the right lift for them to finish
their rise as the one on the scaffold turns
to accept them like a gift and place them
on the growing stack. They chime slightly
on the catch. You’d have to do this daily,
morning and afternoon, not to marvel.


The bricks, when thrown, flirt with danger. They have to be “lofted” – throw too hard, and you’re throwing a brick at someone’s head. Throw too soft, you’re dropping a brick. So what is otherwise idiotic and irresponsible gets “just the right lift” and is no less than a marvel.

Is this a man-made miracle? It’s a funny physics at play: their loft, lift, rise makes them “like a gift.” They accumulate and become something more (“the growing stack”). This is ultimately musical (“they chime slightly on the catch”). Not a miracle, but more than merely natural (reading into the physics/basic mechanics imagery).

The overwhelming impression I have is that mankind, as awful as it can be, has actually added something to nature through his way of doing things. It’s strange to say “nature:” we’re talking about bricks and a building. The themes seem to be making/doing or creation, and strictly speaking, none of those things are nature (nature is more or less “the world is eternal”). Described in this poem is a conventional process for a conventional structure. It is done daily and many do not marvel. Maybe one has to wonder about what conventionality is. How it can be both a closed-mindedness and a power, how it can illumine something beautiful that was previously unseen.

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