The Carpenter

By Primus St. John Primus St. John
1    I look at my hands
      In a dark hour.
      They are my wife,
      Another life,
      Explicitly made.
      I compare responsibility
      To journey:
      They are pitch-black
      Whirling in the outside world
      Left behind like a native—

2    We are older:
      Toil is our long way
      Back home.
      It works.
      Causes the space to beat
      Like a heart.
      It is a part of the poem
      That appears
      And appears on its own.
      It goes on
      On its own,
      Mystical as evil
      But, it is called freedom.

3    I’m sorry:
      I was telling you about my hands.
      How well we are married.
      It follows,
      I recognize all truth
      As some part of ten.
      Spirit is my thumb,
      Without thumb
      I would be nothing.
      I have met some who believe in reason.
      They have had too much wine,
      Confess cause and effect—
      It has been painful.

4    I told you it is unreasonable:
      I guess I should say here,
      I am your carpenter.
      Ethnically, dark wood
      Is my life.
      I could show you my story better,
      Then where I speak
      You would hear
      One more thing, my love.
      I have discovered in this dark wood
      A skill you have called our loneliness.
      I sand it down for you
      Until our bodies fall off.

Primus St. John, “The Carpenter” from Communion: Poems 1976-1998. Copyright © 1999 by Primus St. John. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townshend, WA 98368-0271,

Source: Communion: Poems 1976-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1999)

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Poet Primus St. John

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Nature, The Body, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Primus  St. John


Primus St. John was born in New York City in 1939. For more than 30 years he has lived in Oregon and taught at Portland State University. He is one of the inaugurators of the national Poets in the Schools program, the editor of two anthologies, and the author of several collections of poetry, for which he has received an Oregon Book Award and a Western States Book Award. Three of these books have been collected together, along . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Nature, The Body, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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