“Give me 26 soldiers of lead and I will conquer the world.”
— Benjamin Franklin
My father’s hands
serve a seven-year apprenticeship.
lift a levered eagle with one fingertip.
mix glistening vats of unworked words.
fill minute gaps with furniture.
dam straggly rivers with careful kerning.
blot daily mistakes onto skin.
bloom inky roses.
bob and weave around pulverising rollers.
ken languages his lips don’t know.
lock up a forme so tight it clicks each letter home.
swagger the dabber on pooled pigments.
vary in strength from moment to moment.
develop chemically-pitted crevices; split pink chasms.
resemble a repeatedly bombarded planet.
learn to master the predictable but uncertain.
remain conscientious as the coalman on a steam train.
choose, but never wear handgloves.
hold out each proof as if a missive to his love.
tinged with grease, lift the paper leaf by leaf.
work a tinnitus of levers.
attend to surface, depth and evenness.
seldom form a printer’s fist but when they do, beware you men of lead.
mark up, mend, are always making ready.
sensitise the stone:
grind it clean to begin again, one layer lower.
The Manchester Review, November 2013