Door Poem

Tom Paulin

Macaboy is at his workbench, and in the flow of his rituals he might be a priest at an altar, except that he hasn’t a stitch of clothing on. There is an early June heatwave. His skin glistens like a space suit. His balls are drawn up tight with work.

He is making a flush door. This is to be the Prince of Doors. A pure door, an essence. First principle: Plywood sucks. Second law: Veneer is Nixonian – all cover-up. The door is being joined from the pieces of aged two-inch walnut that Macaboy chose at Medary’s, which will face the eye of the beholder as naked as Macaboy was at birth and is now. The door will be heavy in the best sense, like the facial expressions of Humphrey Bogart – tough, authentic, mysterious. Its design will follow a classic tradition: the stiles and rails are already trimmed, mortised and tenoned, and slender wedges to lock the tenons lie ready on a tray on the bench, like slivers cut from a small wheel of cheese and laid out for drink time. There will be an extra rail at the waist, so there will be upper and lower panels. But these are to be as thick as their frame – it will be a flush door, as safe as Hoover Dam – and the beauty will be in the dance of grains, not in the play of highlights that comes from piling on frills. There’ll be none of your whorish bevels or moulding, no panel freak’s chamfers or astragals or bolections or cocked beads. Just one perfect surface on which the statements of nature will fill the eye, as they do in a seascape. But this great simplicity calls for precisions as confining as those of certain great complexities on which human life hangs, such as microcentimetrically tolerant Rolls-Royce airplane engines, and this afternoon’s task may be the most exacting of all. He is gluing up the upper panel: six slim hexahedrons to be forced together, perfectly squared, without the least winding or washboarding – flat as a sheet of plate glass.

John Hersey, The Walnut Door

three four
knock at the door
– imagine the door as subject
no mystery
just a coathanger
a formal object
on which for some reason
you’ve to drape its own history
– how it began
– is began better than started?
– began as the flap on a tent
made out of cloth or hide or felt
like the tent itself
– then the door proper
made of what’s termed
rigid permanent material
that came about si-
multaneously with architecture
– various big squat
round or high
buildings whose doors
were made of stone or bronze
and had heavy hinges
whose pivots
were coated in lard or oil
so they didn’t scringe
– notice though how among several
definite objects
we’ve got felt and lard
so on one level
this must’ve something to do
with Joseph Beuys
a heroic artist like James Joyce
except he’s more like Icarus
because the young Beuys – 19 –
was a Stuka pilot in the Luftwaffe
a prince of the air yes
conscripted by darkness
like Satan
but a no-sayer to the Nazi cause
– unstrapped and unbuckled
he flew into a black smoky clatter
– Soviet ack ack that sounded
like munching apples in church
– his plane bucked and lurched
then crashed hard
into the Caucasus
– young Joseph lay crushed
in the smashed cockpit
– deep snow windhowl emptiness
no search party no one
till a voice said voda
and made him sip steelcold water
– two Tartar tribesmen he’d known
back at the airbase
Du nix njemcky
du Tatar
took him into their tent
where they rubbed his body all over
with grease and soft lard
wrapped him in layers of felt
and strapped them tight

in the tent
a dense smell of cheese grease milk
he was out of it for a fortnight
then they strapped him to a sledge
and lugged this felt parcel
to the German lines
– a pissed-off sentry
mangy and frostbitten
in the lichened daylight
pointed to a flap
on the hospital tent
– inside a smell
of disinfectant and crap
but as they lift him into that orderly hell
it’s another threshold another liminal
bar another edge
I meant to take as part of this subject
– if it is a subject
for twenty-five years after
Joseph Beuys was lifted
from his wrecked Stuka
and enveloped in felt
I’m reading Heaney’s latest book
Door into the Dark
in a bed and breakfast
a creaky Georgian farmhouse
maybe near Limerick
somewhere anyway in the west
– it’s so far back
it’s like the year nought
and why should the place matter?
why name what patch of ground
now thirty years later?
I’ve stepped back into the dark
to catch the hammered anvil’s shortpitched ring
and to take the stress
of that precise shortpitchedness
how it rings
– stopped short abrupt
how it sting sting stings
like bullets in a tunnel
its thingness
like sparks in your eardrum
part of a pattern
of foreclosed sound
almost as if the bank’s stepped in
and put a bar
on any right of redemption
or else that shortpitched ring
might be the underground creak
of the state’s static timbers
or again it might be
a type of ontological
split that also heals
– that is anneals
it all back together
like some phantom particle
that both splits and doesn’t split
– it’s a civil war trope
that maybe cancels hope
or does it?
I couldn’t frame that question
– not as a youth not then
but the way the eye bends
to the big black anvil
horned as a unicorn
and square at one end
– this was a door sill
one of the very first
and because reading’s a social
always a social act
I began to be nervous
– there was something inside
that was also outside
something on the loose
– I was ill all that week
– ill with a heavy bronchitis
so when I switched off the light
the darkness of the mouldy bedroom
was too absolute too thick
like the essence of night
that can frighten you sick
– I imagined a door
disguised as a bookcase
the eight o’clock walk
to the greased trapdoor
then that hidden chalk
mark on the inside
of Tom Paine’s cell door
– it was shut and that saved him
from the death squad in the corridor
– but these are a young skite’s
callow fears
I’ve been here before
and later grown weak and flustered
in front of a blistered door
– the door
of an empty farmhouse
between Ballyeriston and Maas
– inside a stink of damp and disinfectant
on the table – bare table –
one half-empty
bleared bottle of Powers
– only a half bottle
like a kind of subtraction
or like a tomb gift
from the dead to the living
a bottle that didn’t imply
any human connection
– it’d never be lifted
to the rim of a glass

outside banal and forever
the blistered paint on that door
was like bladderwrack
ready to be popped
ready to pop off
like the old cattle farmer
who worked a hundred acres
and tried to live on air
– but no turfstack
no beasts in the back
– that poverished field –
no halfdoor like a welcome
in the cottage next the barn

– no harm
but this is losing the plot
because each and every door’s
what you beat your head against
– a door is more than a fence
it’s complete denial
and even Ghiberti’s great bronze doors
the Porta del Paradiso
on the Baptistery in Florence
– doors that took twenty years
to shape and cast and hang
– even those enormous doors
overwhelm as objects
as foursquare function
and can never be as pure as song
– they belong to epic
like the grating hinges in Milton
or the crazy door of the jakes
that Bloom kicks open
a jerky scraky shaky
door
that because we ken
a particular pong
– mouldy limewash and stale cobwebs
it’s like coming home
and knowing it is home
– and so Bloom came forth
from the gloom into the air