Joint effort


my father’s workshop
smelled the same although
ten days had passed
since he’d won his
battle for death.

I inhaled
that familiar scent
which had permiated every
workshop in every house
we had inhabited
since the day
I was born

wood shavings, clay,

the distinctive twist tobacco, ordered
for him by the local tobacconist,
which he would cut and
tip carefully into
the roughly whittled
bowl of that eccentric pipe,
then light with a match, sucking
on the cane stem
and filling
the air with thick,
acrid clouds of nicotine.
I thought I didn’t like
the smell, but I
missed it
when it was gone.

and something else, the
unique smell of him,
my father.
no matter how many
hours of toil he put in,
he never smelled of sweat,
just of him.

his tools were
arranged in the usual places.
the floor was swept and
everything was tidy


on a pedestal
on the centre of the floor
sat an unfinished headstone
he had recently been asked to carve
for Lady Arran’s dead

beside that
oblong of bathstone
were several chisels, arranged
in a row.

no sound
disturbed the silence
of what had so quickly become
a museum.

I can’t
remember a time
when a room felt emptier or
more forlorn.

the words
of the headstone
had been drawn sharply
in pencil. the first word was
“Here” and the H had been etched.
I ran my finger along
the groove,
felt the lonely room
shiver almost

I was confused;
I knew my father had
secretly chosen to die, and
yet he had begun this headstone
in memory of his friend’s
much loved dog.

as I selected
a chisel he momentarily
touched his hand to my back
and I knew I was
expected to
finish his

I had hardly
lifted a chisel since
the day I had carelessly
cut into my hand while
my father was absent,
but I was not alone
this time.

I worked carefully, slowly,
feeling the beauty
that warms the bones
and slinks through the body
like liquid silver
as the chisel gently
chips each sliver of stone away,
but I quickly tired and
put down the tools.
I’d finish the carving
another day.

it took me a week
to carefully edge the words
into shape
and when it was finished
my father and I stood side by side.
I felt his hand on my back,
and his silent praise.
I felt our differences
into oblivion

© Jane Paterson Basil


11 thoughts on “Joint effort

    1. Ahh, chisels. The feel of them slicing through wood… lovely.
      My mum sold dad’s beautiful (and valuable) set of chisels without telling us. It was heartbreaking. If ever there was a family heirloom it was those chisels. They were so beautiful.


  1. Ah, Jane. What a truly lovely poem. A real testament to that moment, that week, when you moved with his hand guiding you. Such lovely words.
    So sad your mum sold his chisels – people don’t realise what they’re doing, what value we put on objects, especially ones so much handled, so regularly used.
    My father in law was good with his hands too – very practical. I think my husband felt very sad when the garage/workshop was cleared. Years of accumulated screwdrivers, saws – even old kettles and heaters – things my father in law couldn’t part with because they would ‘come in handy’ one day. Then of course, they never did.
    Beautful work, Jane x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I forgot to put a link to your post! That was stupid of me.
      It’s awful losing good tools, especially the ones which have faithfully served their owners for many years. I love good old tools with wooden handles , held on by copper.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A bless, not to worry. There is something beautiful about old tools – I’m not handy at all, but old woodworking tools have an almost timeless quality. Something about hands and blades and wood – it’s a link to thousands of years of history

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. If my dad was alive he’d hate this one. He was an atheist who believed that when you were dead you were finished.
      I hardly edited this at all. I’m beginning to think it often works better that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree – sometimes over-editing can make a piece read in a contrived/pretentious way. I’m sure your dad would have loved your poem, despite his (lack of) religious beliefs. I’m an atheist, and I think it’s a wonderful poem.

        Liked by 1 person

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