B H Fairchild poems

B H Fairchild(1942 - / Houston, Texas.)
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Thermoregulation in Winter Moths

- by B H Fairchild 66

How do the winter moths survive when other moths die? What enables them to avoid freezing as they rest, and what makes it possible for them to fly -- and so to seek food and mates -- in the cold?
Bernd Heinrich, Scientific American

1. The Himalayas

The room lies there, immaculate, bone light
on white walls, shell-pink carpet, and pale, too,
are the wrists and hands of professors gathered
in the outer hall where behind darkness
and a mirror they can observe unseen.
They were told: high in the Himalayas
Buddhist monks thrive in sub-zero cold
far too harsh for human life. Suspended
in the deep grace of meditation, they raise
their body heat and do not freeze to death.
So five Tibetan monks have been flown
to Cambridge and the basement of Reed Hall.
They sit now with crossed legs and slight smiles,
and white sheets lap over their shoulders
like enfolded wings. The sheets are wet,
and drops of water trickle down the monks'
bare backs. The professors wait patiently
but with the widened eyes of fathers
watching new babies in hospital cribs.
Their aluminum clipboards rest gently
in their laps, their pens are poised,
and in a well-lit room in Cambridge
five Tibetan monks sit under heavy wet sheets
and steam begins to rise from their shoulders.

2. Burn Ward

My friend speaks haltingly, the syllables freezing
against the night air because the nurse's story
still possesses him, the ease with which she tended
patients so lost in pain, so mangled, scarred, and
abandoned in some arctic zone of uncharted suffering
that strangers stumbling onto the ward might
cry out, rushing back to a world where the very air
did not grieve flesh. Empathy was impossible,
he said. A kind of fog or frozen lake lay between her
and the patient, far away. Empathy was an insult,
to look into the eyes of the consumed and pretend,
I know. It must have been this lake, this vast
glacial plain that she would never cross, where
the patient waved in the blue-gray distance,
alone and trembling the way winter moths tremble
to warm themselves, while she stood, also alone
and freezing, on the other side, it must have been
this unbearable cold that made her drive straight home
one day, sit down cross-legged in the center of
and empty garage, pour the gasoline on like a balm,
and calmly strike a match like someone starting
a winter fire, or lost and searching in the frozen dark.

The Art of the Lathe

- by B H Fairchild 64

Leonardo imagined the first one.
The next was a pole lathe with a drive cord,
illustrated in Plumier's L'art de tourner en perfection.
Then Ramsden, Vauconson, the great Maudslay,
his student Roberts, Fox, Clement, Whitworth.

The long line of machinists to my left
lean into their work, ungloved hands adjusting the calipers,
tapping the bit lightly with their fingertips.
Each man withdraws into his house of work:
the rough cut, shearing of iron by tempered steel,
blue-black threads lifting like locks of hair,
then breaking over bevel and ridge.
Oil and water splash over the whitening bit, hissing.
The lathe on night-shift, moonlight silvering the bed-ways.

The old man I apprenticed with, Roy Garcia,
in silk shirt, khakis, and Florsheims. Cautious,
almost delicate explanations and slow,
shapely hand movements. Craft by repetition.
Haig and Haig behind the tool chest.

In Diderot's Encyclopaedia, an engraving
of a small machine shop: forge and bellows in back,
in the foreground a mandrel lathe turned by a boy.
It is late afternoon, and the copper light leaking in
from the street side of the shop just catches
his elbow, calf, shoe. Taverns begin to crowd
with workmen curling over their tankards,
still hearing in the rattle of carriages over cobblestone
the steady tap of the treadle,
the gasp and heave of the bellows.

The boy leaves the shop, cringing into the light,
and digs the grime from his fingernails, blue
from bruises. Walking home, he hears a clavier—
Couperin, maybe, a Bach toccata—from a window overhead.
Music, he thinks, the beautiful.
Tavern doors open. Voices. Grab and hustle of the street.
Cart wheels. The small room of his life. The darkening sky.

I listen to the clunk-and-slide of the milling machine,
Maudsley's art of clarity and precision: sculpture of poppet,
saddle, jack screw, pawl, cone-pulley,
the fit and mesh of gears, tooth in groove like interlaced fingers.
I think of Mozart folding and unfolding his napkin
as the notes sound in his head. The new machinist sings Patsy Cline,
I Fall to Pieces. Sparrows bicker overhead.
Screed of the grinder, the bandsaw's groan and wail.

In his boredom the boy in Diderot
studies again through the shop's open door
the buttresses of Suger's cathedral
and imagines the young Leonardo in his apprenticeship
staring through the window at Brunelleschi's dome,
solid yet miraculous, a resurrected body, floating above the city.

Outside, a cowbird cries, flapping up from the pipe rack,
the ruffling of wings like a quilt flung over a bed.
Snow settles on the tops of cans, black rings in a white field.
The stock, cut clean, gleams under lamplight.
After work, I wade back through the silence of the shop:
the lathes shut down, inert, like enormous animals in hibernation,
red oil rags lying limp on the shoulders
of machines, dust motes still climbing shafts
of dawn light, hook and hoist chain lying desultory
as an old drunk collapsed outside a bar,
barn sparrows pecking on the shores of oil puddles—
emptiness, wholeness; a cave, a cathedral.

As morning light washes the walls of Florence,
the boy Leonardo mixes paints in Verrocchio's shop
and watches the new apprentice muddle
the simple task of the Madonna's shawl.
Leonardo whistles a canzone and imagines
a lathe: the spindle, bit, and treadle, the gleam of brass.

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