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.

Comment:

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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