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Timothy Walsh

Cracks are inevitable as wrinkles
in an old house that’s been slowly settling
            these seventy years­
hairline cracks spiderwebbing walls,
pressure cracks spanning ceilings
            wide as frozen lakes,
a few jagged lightning bolt cracks
descending on arches and windows.
To repair a crack well, you must first widen it.
Gouge out the loose plaster with probing tools,
scraping away old layers of paint that record
the changing styles of lost decades.
Cover the cracks with fiberglass mesh,
then work the plaster rhythmically,
feathering the angle of the plaster knife,
laying the swath in smooth motions….
As you work, Chopin mazurkas on the stereo
insinuate themselves into the wet plaster.
Your arm motions fall into three-quarter time,
and the work becomes something
            more like dance.
Arm strokes blend into arm strokes,
working the plaster, the mind blank as a wall.
Hours pass. The piano seems an echo
            of eternity beckoning
as you work on the house, and the house
            works on you.
Forever after, you see plastered surfaces
            as frozen artifacts of muscular motion,
and, sitting in the quiet of the room,
you can hear faint mazurkas
echoing in the walls.

From Wild Apples (Parallel Press, 2004).
Used with the author’s permission.

Timothy Walsh grew up in New Jersey but has spent the past three decades in Wisconsin. He currently directs the Cross-College Advising Service at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Timothy’s latest collection of poetry is When the World Was Rear-Wheel Drive: New Jersey Poems (Main Street Rag Publishing). His inspiration comes from walking or bicycling whenever he can, and being on or near the water whenever possible—­canoeing, kayaking, sailing, or sitting by the shore. He also enjoys tending a garden of roses, climbing vines, and fruit trees while the garden tends to him. Learn more about Timothy at







Post New Comment:
Stunning poem, thank you for the wonderful read this day:)))
Posted 01/08/2012 04:55 AM
What a wondrous poem. The mazurkas, the dance of plasterer and pianist, and poet, one.
Posted 01/06/2012 06:03 PM
Thank you for posting this poem. It is so beautiful. I grew up with Chopin in my family walls - and Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, T. Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Bernstein, and more. Built 75 yrs ago. Someone else lives there now. I wonder, when they lie in bed at night - do they hear the music resonating from those walls? Margaret Swedish
Posted 01/06/2012 11:06 AM
yes, wonderful poem, Timothy. so full of images, motion and music... Sharon Auberle
Posted 01/06/2012 10:11 AM
Ralph Murre:
Excellent. I know many plasterers hereabouts (the kind that do the work originally) (still) and your line about frozen artifacts of muscular motion is quite apt. I wouldn't care to wrestle any of those guys, due to their constant exercise. I also know many great poets hereabouts, whom I DO choose to wrestle, but you remind me of the need to constantly execise for that combat as well, if I'm ever to get into your league.
Posted 01/06/2012 09:24 AM
love this. I can hear the Chopin.
Posted 01/06/2012 09:16 AM
"To repair a crack well, you must first widen it." Great line, full of a lived life.
Posted 01/06/2012 08:39 AM
Carol Hauer:
I love this! I love the process that has been "plastered" into this poem. I love the sound of the mazurkas being caught in the wet plaster. I love the notion of the dance of work. I think the guys on "This Old House" would appreciate this poem! Thank you.
Posted 01/06/2012 08:11 AM
I love how the sound is made solid. Wonderful poem!
Posted 01/06/2012 08:08 AM
Kay Sanders:
What a masterly translator you are for formerly mute walls!
Posted 01/06/2012 05:19 AM

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