Though she has published three collections of her poems, Nora Pollard has yet to receive the notice she deserves. I look about some in the shelves of modern poetry at my library and bookstore and never come across her name. As a subscriber to The Writer’s Almanac, it was there I first read something by Nora Pollard. She has been chosen four times to lead off their daily newsletter with one of her poems. Unfortunately, clicking on Amazon won’t work if you want to buy a collection of her poetry. You’ll have better luck at Antrim House.
Nora Pollard is the daughter of Red Pollard, recently brought to our attention by Laura Hillenbrand, author of the bestselling book, Seabiscuit. The poet’s father was the jockey who rode Seabiscuit throughout his glory days on the horse racing circuit. The few available bios of Nora Pollard tell us that even now she earns her living working at a steel company in Connecticut, and has in the past been folksinger, waitress, nanny, teacher, solderer and calligrapher. Her three collections are: Leaning In (2003), Report from the Banana Hospital (2005) and Death & Rapture in the Animal Kingdom (2009). The poem here is from the last.
THE SUM OF MAN
by Norah Pollard
facing the end of his life,
he moved in with me.
We piled his belongings—
his army-issue boots, knife magazines,
Steely Dan tapes, his grinder, drill press,
sanders, belts and hacksaws—
in a heap all over the living room floor.
For two weeks he walked around the mess.
One night he stood looking down at it all
and said: “The sum total of my existence.”
Emptiness in his voice.
Soon after, as if the sum total
needed to be expanded, he began to place
things around in the closets and spaces I’d
cleared for him, and when he'd finished
setting up his workshop in the cellar, he said,
“I should make as many knives as I can,”
and he began to work.
The months plowed on through a cold winter.
In the evenings, we’d share supper, some tale
of family, some laughs, perhaps a walk in the snow.
Then he’d nip back down into the cellar’s keep
To saw and grind and polish,
creating his beautiful knives
until he grew too weak to work.
But still he’d slip down to stand at his workbench
and touch his woods
and run his hand over his lathe.
One night he came up from the cellar
and stood in the kitchen’s warmth
and, shifting his weight
from one foot to the other, said,
“I love my workshop.”
Then he went up to bed.
He’s gone now.
It’s spring. It’s been raining for weeks.
I go down to his shop and stand in the dust
of ground steel and shavings of wood.
I think on how he’d speak of his dying, so
easily, offhandedly, as if it were
a coming anniversary or
an appointment with the moon.
I touch his leather apron, folded for all time,
and his glasses set upon his work gloves.
I take up an unfinished knife and test its heft,
and feel as well the heft of my grief for
this man, this brother I loved,
the whole of him so much greater
than the sum of his existence.