“The Quiet of the Long Familiar”


by Sally Bliumis-Dunn

I could tell they were father and son,
the air between them slack, as though
they hardly noticed one another.

The father sanded the gunwales,
the boy coiled the lines.
And I admired them there, each to his task

in the quiet of the long familiar.
The sawdust coated the father’s arms
like dusk coats grass in a field.

The boy worked next on the oarlocks
polishing the brass until it gleamed,
as though he could harness the sun.

Who cares what they were thinking,
lucky in their lives
that the spin of the genetic wheel

slowed twice to a stop
and landed each of them here.

From Echolocation. Plume Editions, 2017.

To watch two people working together “in the quiet of the long familiar” is to recognize a rhythm as old as humanity itself. Our society’s single-minded focus on the individual has helped us forget that cooperation is a large part of who we are as human beings, embedded in our DNA. Sally Bliumis-Dunn’s lovely poem reminds us of this truth, while highlighting the seeming rarity of a scene like this nowadays: a father and son working in tandem to build a boat, and doing so disengaged from the technology that saturates our lives. We all crave some kind of creative outlet like this, and no matter how that manifests, I believe we each deeply need to slip into the soul-time of being so involved in the task of making something, we lose all sense of clock-time. In the space of creativity, we also lose touch with our self for a while, and shed those intrusive thoughts that can be fed by the constant use of social media, texting, and so on. As Kahlil Gibran once famously wrote: “Work is love made visible,” and in a similar vein, Sally Bliumis-Dunn’s “Work” urges to bear loving witness to the world as it is, to find beauty in the plain and simple, but no less timeless scene of a father and son working together to accomplish something much larger than themselves. She points to “the spin of the genetic wheel” that led them (and each of us) to this very body, this very moment in our lives, and invites us to feel the “luck” of becoming exactly who we are by doing the work we love.

Invitation for Writing and Reflection: When was the last time you were so consumed with the task of creating something (anything) that you lost all sense of time and yourself? You might also be on the lookout over the next week for moments like the one described here, of seeing people out in the world so steeped in the joy of their work that they seem to be beaming, their aliveness suddenly palpable and contagious.

—James Crews