Apr/May 2003 Poetry

To My Husband, Who Builds Porch Steps

by Chris Potter


To My Husband, Who Builds Porch Steps

You strike each nail four times.
Echoes double, triple the beat. You stand
in a welter of tools and wood scraps, red T-shirt
stuck to your back, gray hair dark,

young again with sweat. I will be
a musician,
you told your father. He said,
I can't help you with that. Forty years later
you've loosed your congregation into this July

noon with Bach, turned off the organ,
come home to a table saw's smoky whine,
ripping pine risers. Once, sad and traveling
East Berlin before the Wall came down,

you hiked through weed-bound rubble to a church—
zerstoert in 1945—roofless, jagged walls
shoulder-high. Inside yourself you heard,
clear as dissolving ice, Now Thank We All Our God,

an organ playing harmonies you didn't recognize.
You found Johann Cruger's plaque buried nearby,
author of the hymn. You hadn't known
this was his church, his ministry.

Where sapling trees grew through the floor
and out a window, you gave thanks—
the war long past, the soreness in you gone,
hearing this greeting. Now I watch you work

and listen. I praise the simmering air
that holds you, the carpentry your father taught,
psalms sung by hammers, and what you've become:
music blooming where there should be none.


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