I discovered this unremarked corner of our elegant language as I sat pondering my children’s playset in the withering humidity of an August morn. The dragonflies buzzed lazily around the stout wooden posts while forked pine needles quivered in a spider’s sprawling handiwork. Somewhere a butterfly sighed and I heard a wasp’s sharp intake of breath. Why, I wondered, are the utilitarian necessities of our civilization absent from the lyric strains of experience’s chroniclers? What haughty attitudes exclude functional goods from the purview of poetic license? But there it was: tarp.
Perhaps its absence stems from shame. The flapping edge of yellow cloth, so plaintively crying for repair, provokes a gnawing guilt about my poor standards of modern craftsmanship. It silently protests its faulty installation. It screams in the dulcet tones of a coated and violated fabric. This tragedy results from a welter of fantastically enumerated instructions that bring to mind the delicate maneuvers required in the preparation of pufferfish. They, too, demand virtuosity. They, too, forgive no half-witted parlance. Thus: the playset lists; it groans sickly.
Who is not reminded of the Bard’s supposition:
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head
Very few, indeed. It’s from a late sonnet.
Perhaps, instead, the disappearance of this weatherproof canvas from our poetic imaginations derives from its mundane, perfunctory performance of duty. What muse speaks to the kitchen spoon, or the dollop of glue, or the pressure-treated two-by-four, which should apparently never be joined by spoon-applied adhesives? What inspiration can be drawn from them? None, truly. They are not the scenes reflected in the foam of a rabid squirrel. They are not the odors of cicada scat-balls. They instead require the input of our own inspiration, and the stolid work of dexterous labor, to incarnate their vision. Woe to the musician of our language who attempts to sing the words of the construction trades, as I have. That way lies the unseen chowing of deer on hydrangeas at night.
So while the torn tarpaulin, haunting the dying summer’s day with its desolate fringe (I can take no joy in you, cloud bottoms! I am deaf to you, bird farts!)—while this durable sheet mocks our pretensions and lays waste to our soaring imagery, it yet becomes consumed in the very language that it resists. I have caught it; I have laid it on the cutting board:
i will have you, tarp
i will swallow your sound
i will regurgitate you in the trashcan
i will have Matt put up the new one