|Laurel Paley, B.H. Fairchild
mixed media drawing, image
transfer, and acrylic media on panels
51" x 60"
Work is a transient form of mechanical energy by means
of which certain transformations of other forms of energy
are brought about through the agency of a force acting
through a distance. . . . Work done by lifting a body stores
mechanical potential energy in the system consisting of the
body and the earth. Work done on a body to set it in motion
stores mechanical kinetic energy in the system of which the
body is one part.
--Handbook of Engineering Fundamentals
Drill collars lie on racks and howl
in the blunt wind. A winch truck waits
in the shop yard beside an iron block,
hook and cable coiling down, dragging
through dirt that blows in yellow gusts.
East across a field where the slag sky
of morning bends down, a man walks away
from a white frame house and a woman
who shouts and waves from the back porch.
He can hear the shop doors banging open.
Inside, where the gray light lifts dust
in swirls, tools rest like bodies dull
with sleep, lead-heavy. The lathe
starts its dark groan, the chuck's jaw
gripping an iron round, the bit set.
Outside, the man approaches the iron block,
a rotary table, judging its weight,
the jerk and pull on the hoist chain.
A bad sun heaves the shadow of his house
outward. He bends down. A day begins.
II. The Body
Looping the chain through the block's eyes,
he makes a knot and pulls the cable hook through.
The winch motor starts up, reeling in cable slowly
until it tightens, then drops to a lower gear
and begins to lift. The motor's whine brings
machinists to the shop windows, sends sparrows
fluttering from high-wires where the plains wind
gives its thin moan and sigh. When the brake
is thrown, the block jerks and sways five feet
above the earth, straining to return, popping
a loose cable thread and making the gin poles
screech in their sockets like grief-stricken women.
From the house the man is lost in the blaze of a sun
gorged to bursting and mirrored in the shop's
tin side. The block hangs, black in the red air.
III. The Body and the Earth
Beneath the rotary table the man reaches up
to remove the huge bearings, and oil winds
down his arm like a black rope. He places
each bearing big as a pendulum in the sun
where it shines, swathed in grease.
It is the heart of the day, and he feels
the long breeze cool his face and forearms,
wet now with the good sweat of hard work.
The wind scrapes through stubble, making
a papery sound that reminds him of harvest:
him, his father, the field hands crowded around
a beer keg to celebrate the week's cut, dirt
drying to mud on their damp faces, leaving
bruises and black masks. Now, kneeling
in the block's cool shadow, he watches clods
soak up the brown pools of oil and sweat.
IV. The System of Which the Body Is One Part
On the down side of the work day,
when the wind shifts and heat stuns the ground
like an iron brand, the machinists lean
into the shadow of the shop's eaves
and gulp ice water, watching the yard hand now
as he struggles in his black square
to slip each bearing back in place, each steel ball
that mirrors back his eyes, the stubble field, the shop,
the white frame house, the sun, and everything beyond,
the whole circumference of seen and unseen, the world
stretching away in its one last moment when the chain
makes that odd grunting noise, and sighs click, and then click,
and sings through the eyes of the block as it slams the ground
and the earth takes the thud and the men freeze
and the woman strolls out to see what has happened now
in the system of which the body is one part.
Artist Laurel Paley and Poet B.H. Fairchild
a rhetorical inversion of the second of two parallel syntactical structures
the man in the war, and the war in the man, or
he went to the theater, but home went she
The chiasmus is the conceptual center of this collaboration by artist Laurel Paley and poet B.H. Fairchild. It
suggests something a bit more complex than mere dualism or a set of polarities.
In his third book of poems, The Art of the Lathe, B.H. Fairchild dissolves (or at least challenges) assumed
differences between art (aesthetic, intellectual/spiritual, organic) and craft (utilitarian, physical,
mechanical). This is especially evident in his title poem and in the poem "Work" (including the epigraph he
sampled from an engineering handbook).
Laurel Paley constructs a visual chiasmus, using resonant snippets of text from these poems, as well as
colors, shapes, images and textures. The visual elements, references and structures in her piece are
parallel to the verbal (poetry, with its own textures, colors, and forms), and yet the piece inverts them, thus
further challenging conventional distinctions such as art/craft, physical/spiritual, and even
abstract/concrete —a dichotomy especially dear to artists as well as to poets.
In this meeting of verbal and visual, Paley’s artwork attempts not to “illustrate poems,” but rather to enter
imaginatively the concerns and aspirations of Fairchild’s poetic endeavor, using various methods of image-
making. The resulting piece, Chiasmus, offers a recursive layering and mapping, backwards and forwards,
inward and outward, of these dissolved dualities.