American Life in Poetry: Column 179


I’ve always loved shop talk, with its wonderful language of tools and techniques. This poem by D. Nurkse of Brooklyn, New York, is a perfect example. I especially like the use of the verb, lap, in line seven, because that’s exactly the sound a four-inch wall brush makes.

Bushwick: Latex Flat

Sadness of just-painted rooms.   
We clean our tools   
meticulously, as if currying horses:   
the little nervous sash brush   
to be combed and primped,   
the fat old four-inchers   
that lap up space   
to be wrapped and groomed,   
the ceiling rollers,   
the little pencils   
that cover nailheads   
with oak gloss,   
to be counted and packed:   
camped on our dropsheets   
we stare across gleaming floors   
at the door and beyond it   
the old city full of old rumors   
of conspiracies, gunshots, market crashes:   
with a little mallet   
we tap our lids closed,   
holding our breath, holding our lives   
in suspension for a moment:   
an extra drop will ruin everything.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2007 by D. Nurkse, whose newest book of poetry The Border Kingdom, is forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Poem reprinted from Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn, ed., Julia Spicher Kasdorf & Michael Tyrrell, New York University Press, 2007, by permission of D. Nurkse. Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.