American Life in Poetry: Column 675


My late friend, the poet and novelist Jim Harrison, used to tease me about the buckets of bent nails in my barn, which I planned to straighten on some rainy day but which only accumulated. Here's a fine bent nail poem by Thomas R. Moore, from his new book Saving Nails, from Moon Pie Press. Moore lives in Maine.

Saving Nails

I strip the porch roof, pick out the used
nails, and toss the shingles down onto
a drop cloth, remembering when I shingled
my grandmother's roof fifty years ago:
the tar smell, the brackets, planks, and
ladders all the same, but level now
with hemlock limbs instead of locust.
I lug four shingles up the ladder, kneel
and drive the old nails home, slide
another shingle into place, pound,
toes bent, knees creaking. Miserliness,
a friend jokes about the nails, but I call it
caring, thinking of the man who gave
us this land on the cove, the cottage, the boat-
house full of boats. The only time I saw
him he was at his work bench, a rich
man straightening nails, moving from
the bent can to the anvil to the straight.

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 ©2016 by Thomas R. Moore, “Saving Nails” from Saving Nails, (Moon Pie Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Thomas R. Moore and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 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.