Saturday, July 26, 2008

And now for a few words from our sponsor ...

Shiver is a good word.

So is perpendicular. I like perpendicular better than parallel, although that's also a good word. Perpendicular and parallel sound like what they mean, which is always a cool trick. Wharf is a good word.

Now I'm at sliver and dwarf, the logical next steps from shiver and wharf. No, I didn't forget about perpendicular and parallel. They just don't have any next steps; you get there and you're done. But if shiver and wharf led me to sliver and dwarf and the two p-words are a dead end, then the only place left to go is swarf. And here I am, unexpectedly and indubitably.


Other people will live their entire lives without ever understanding the profound implication of swarf.

"Fine metallic particles removed by a cutting or grinding tool," says Webster's Third New International Dictionary of swarf.

I got shiver from the second to last page of "Better," an unpublished novel of my brother's that I have reason to revisit. Something about that particular shiver on that particular page went **ting** in my terrible brain, and delivered unto me the thought that a list of good words would make for a good post on a good Saturday morning.

Then wharf arrived, trailing along lines at once perpendicular and parallel, and led me directly to swarf. From there I go hurling and swirling backwards to that word's singular and monolithic concept.

Dad standing before his lathe or milling machine, tooling a piece of metal, a Stroh's can at his elbow. All those tiny curls of steel or aluminum falling to the ground as he transformed a formless chunk of metal into a cam or lever or joint. The curls accumulating around the machines into Lilliputian-sized mountains. From there, they would get tracked all through the house.

"Goddamnit, Bill," my mother yells over the roaring vacuum, "you and these little metal shavings!"

Picking little metal curls from the bottoms of my feet; the way they became one with a pair of socks.

Swarf was an ever-present detail of my life.

The day after Dad died, I stepped into his shop and sat on his filthy plastic chair. He had been in the middle of a dozen projects and the shop was a mess. There were piles of sawdust and swarf at the base of every machine. I sat there staring. That's when the shock set in: elemental nausea, a slight fever amid the feeling of being ice-cold.

With my shaking frozen fingers, I retrieved one of the round metal nut-and-bolt organizers from the rack on the wall. I stepped around the shop and collected pinches of detritus from around each of the machines.

Eventually, I added a few of Dad's ashes (this was preceded by events with names such as autopsy and cremation--both of which are very bad words). The cylindrical metal dish sits on my desktop. It is the only swarf left.

You have to be very, very careful with words.


Nin Andrews said...

Wow. This is an amazing piece . . .

The Scribe said...

you, have a wonderful way with words.

Jarvis Rockhall said...

This is a truly brilliant piece.

Isn't there a saying:

"The right words can free the soul"

Or something like that?

(I love perpendicular too, its one of my favourites, along with cylindrical)

Whitenoise said...

Hey Erin. You coulda side-stepped into swarthy, as in that after-glow complexion, but swarf is good. I guess, in a way, we're all made of cosmic swarf...