What I told the insurance company was that the fire appeared to have started in connection with a block heater plugged in to a minivan parked in the garage. My report included photographs that confirmed structural damage sufficient to warrant demolition of the garage and that none of the contents would be salvageable.
I’ll confide in you that while my report was thorough, detailed, and accurate, it left a good deal out. It didn’t say anything about the hundreds of tiny icicles that glistened in the morning sun on the edge of sunflower yellow siding on the house, the tanker truck’s spray caught in the tension between the fire blazing in the adjacent garage and the arctic rage of the polar vortex, still numbingly alive and well when something combusted under the hood of the minivan.
My report didn’t mention the way that sunflower yellow paint peeled back under intense heat, curling away from gray steel siding like the delicate petals of an ashen rose. I withheld the photo with the startling bokeh dancing against charred rafters slung from ceiling to floor.
And I certainly didn’t include the one-word of conversation I’d had with the homeowner as we stood on sheer ice in front of the garage, looking in past collapsed overhead doors. The roof lay on top of the minivan, once buffed silver, now dull charcoal gray. The windows were shattered, blown out from intense heat. Only black steel skeletons stood where the seats had been, dozens of slender icicles suspended from every horizontal surface like rows of teeth in a frozen chorus of gaping maws. The scene’s top-sided illumination was disorienting, sun boring through openings in a roof that did not, the day before, have skylights.
“Haunting,” I said to the man, shivering against slicing wind chills.
He nodded in return.
I left all of that out, though they might catch a small glimpse of it in the photographs if they were looking.
But only if they were looking.
In Poetry at Work, Glynn Young asks the question many are quick to answer with a resounding No: Can work have beauty?
Few of us associate our work with beauty, unless we work in an art museum, florist shop or national park. It’s one of the reasons—perhaps the primary reason—we fail to see poetry at work. No beauty, no poetry.
So if I consider my question again, confining my answers to the work itself, I would say this: not all work is beautiful, but all work is meant to have beauty. (Poetry at Work, p. 68)
The beauty in my work as a claims adjuster is not readily apparent. Some days I come home with my boots covered with the stuff that barn boots were made for, with soot smeared on my hands and face or sewage wicking up past the hem of my work jeans. Some days I wear a mask because even the air is toxic, and other days I stand on the shoulder of a state highway in the blistering wind photographing tire tracks in the snow that lead down into the ditch where pieces of a bumper and tail lamp prop up a bouquet of flowers, marking the very spot where it’s possible beauty itself expired.
Is there beauty to be found in that kind of work? Ask the petals of the delicate ashen rose.
We’re reading Poetry at Work together this month. Are you reading along? In chapter 10, Glynn invites us to consider the intrinsic beauty to be found our work: “What could you call beautiful in the actual work that you do? It may be as simple as the way your hand turns a wheel, the sound of a good speaker making a presentation…how a child suddenly understands something you were trying to teach him.” Perhaps you’d share in the comments where you might find beauty in your work. Other chapters this week considered the poetry of the organization chart, the poet in the culture of control, the poetry of speechwriting and the poetry of transparency. Share your thoughts with us in the comments on your favorite chapter, and any poems or observations you wrote along the way.
Join us next week as we wrap up our discussion with chapters 13-20
January 8: The Poetry of the Workspace (Introduction – Chapter 7)
January 15: The Poetry of Beauty in the Workplace (Chapters 8 – 12)
January 22: Chapters 13 – 20
Browse more Poetry at Work
Poetry at Work, by Glynn Young, foreword by Scott Edward Anderson
“This book is elemental.”
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