ROY OLAFSEN, CAPE COD CRAFTSPERSON, TELLS ALL
First time I look at their lot with the new clients
I give them my Thoreau Moment, just walking around
like I’m studying the situation, gazing off into the woods
down the back, even rolling the dirt between
my thumb and fingers. Then I step off the distance
in a trance from the trees to road’s edge and check
where the sun’s at, as if I could improve on
its location with a few minor adjustments.
The ponytail’s a badge of sensitivity. I tug on
to show I’m thinking hard, make them wonder
was I at Woodstock? Americans are suckers for nostalgia.
All that time not a word leaves my mouth, even when
I go from several arbitrary places to the boundary sticks.
After about ten minutes I knock it off and raise my arms
like I was getting it straight from the Great Spirit,
“Your new home wants to be here.”
I give them time to think about that,
then go, “You’ll want the back of your dwelling
to be fairly close to the woods, so you’ll have
contact with the bird life. A feeder back there
will draw them from the cover beautifully.
From time to time, you’ll see deer, too.” Notice
I don’t mention the deer ticks. No sense
complicating the simple life.
About that time they’re smiling at each other.
Later, after construction starts, they’ll be at
each other’s throats with cheese spreaders.
But now, while we’re still talking, I say,
“Congratulations. You’ve chosen a lovely site.
You’ll want to utilize this excellent southern
exposure, so I recommend we install at least
one good-size bay window, maximize solar collection.
Plenty of warmth and light in your new home.
Your entrance should face the road, so it’s
friendly and welcoming, though this deep
on your land you’ll have privacy too
and reduce road noise.” Makes them think
the natives will be coming by to drop off
the free lobsters. I picked some of this stuff up
from those TV carpenter shows, guys
in eighty-dollar designer shirts and tailored
jeans spending millions to make it look simple.
The rest I borrowed from old John Slade.
First time I saw him do that walk-about
on a job site, tugging on his ear, studying the sun,
stepping off the footprint, I knew I was working
for a genius. Clients ate it up, that and John
letting them buy him drinks: “Nothing
these New York fellas want more than
hobnobbing with a genuine Cape Codder
over a platter of Wellfleet oysters, boy.
Tell them a few local stories, you can whip
the wallets out their pockets and tup their women
under their noses, finest kind,” he’d say.
“Course they don’t want another nail driven
in town once their house is finished, nor
a supermarket or traffic light, so they can tell
their friends at home how rough they live all summer,
and we can eat Spam and Wonder Bread from
Labor Day to the Fourth of July. So what the hell
do they need insulation for? If they ain’t going
to be here when it’s cold, I ain’t going to give
them any.” I’ll never forget the day a client
complained about rain getting in around
his trapezoid windows, and old John
got started, “Well, a house is a lot like a boat...”
is the author of thirteen collections of poems. His recent books are
Place Keepers (2003), The Strength of a Named Thing
(1999) and Sky and Island Light (1997), all from Louisiana
State University Press, and the narrative poem Hotel Malabar,
winner of the 1997 Iowa Poetry Prize (U of Iowa Press, 1998). His awards
include a Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEA fellowships, the Sotheby Prize
of the Arvon Foundation (England), and Poetry’s Levinson Prize,
the first OB Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize from the Folger Shakespeare
Library, and the Charity Randall Citation from the International Poetry
Forum. He lives with his wife, Ellen, in Truro, Massachusetts.