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by W. Mahlon Purdin

He used to sit at a folding card table
In a little alcove off the old dining room
In the house he had dreamed of
All his life.

He always sat in the matching folding chair
That came with the table, vinyl covered.
He spent so many, many hours writing in a little
Black six-ring notebook.

He was creating an index of his 78s
All the original jazz musicians from the '30s
And '40s, he had tons of them in the attic.
He was transferring everything to reel-to-reel.

He would sit out there listening, and writing.
He would watch the odometer on the tape machine
And note the beginning and the end of each song.
His mechanical pencil softly pressing along.

Each page was padded by the ones around it.
He wrote on both sides, his writing embossing each sheet twice.
Sometimes I would sit there with him, watching;
His eyes and his hands and the tip of that pencil.

He had tiny handwriting with sharp ups and downs.
It was barely legible. He formed the letters
As if they were numbers and the numbers
Looked just like the letters.

He filled many notebooks and when he finally
Completed the years and years of listening
And writing he seemed a little disappointed
There at his card table. Pencil, still, in hand.

He always thought that reel-to-reel would be
The final format. He was so struck by how much
Better it was than the old records. He loved
How much would fit on just one tape.

How wrong he was. Born in 1910, how could he know?
To him a miracle was immutable, forever.
I stare sometimes at the little six-ringed notebooks
And push the dust aside from their covers.

Inside, there is his handwriting on page after page.
The sharp little letters, the numbers trying to be letters.
Hundreds of pages, so much listening and determination
In a project he never wanted to finish.

I wonder sometimes why he chose to spend so much time
With those notebooks and his mechanical pencil.
We could have done so many things together.
So many years dead, I still have no answer.

Writing in my checkbook register today with a mechanical pencil
I noticed that my handwriting has changed over the years.
It used to be dramatic and flamboyant.
Now it's smaller and the letters are sharpening.


Posted on 08/18/2009
Copyright © 2022 W. Mahlon Purdin

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by V. Blake on 08/18/09 at 04:19 AM

This paints such a vivid picture, it's incredible. I was right there with you from the start to the finish, though if I were to offer any constructive criticism, I thought that the line "Like the journey was more important than arriving" was a little bit cliche for the originality the rest of this just bleeds. All in all, fantastic write.

Posted by Kristina Woodhill on 07/02/13 at 02:03 AM

I'm very glad to have found this gem. Wonderful details of this man's writings and methods. We have lived in a time to have seen technology pass by those old vinyls, the reel-to-reel my husband has sits idle, the tape deck getting dusty, and so it goes, faster than the speed of sound it seems. Your dad's tiny handwriting reminds me of my dad's who was an engineer with that very neat up and down to the letters - precise, everything in order. One wonders about the time spent, or better spent. Really a marvelous write.

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