On the Locksmith’s Retirement


This poem was originally published in 2013 in OVS magazine — there are plans to change (any day now!) all the locks in my campus building, sweet old Ellen Reed House, and talk of those plans brought this poem back to mind.

On The Locksmith’s Retirement

After nearly forty years,
on the small-town college campus
he reckons eight hundred and forty two doors
were his exclusive territory –
his, and his father’s before him –

not just the locks, but the doors
themselves, the hinges,
the winter-swollen wood
needing a bit of shouldering,
the brass strikeplate
that’s shifted over time
so the deadbolt’s tongue
can’t quite find home.

These buildings known to him
like the body of the beloved –
an intimate cartography – all these portals
which seem generic to the rest of us.

The reception’s assembled crowd laughs
to hear he’s picked a few locks in his day,
but he doesn’t find it that funny –
just another kind of key he’s made,
another way through
to the other side.

Back in my office,
behind what I now know as his door,
my freshly-pinned ten years
feel scant; my scholarship thins
to shallow ephemera. My sense
of where I am, what I know, disrupted.

When I retire, I hope I’ll also be able to say
I’ve opened every door at least once.


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