Begin with sand
Where the river flows fast and clean.
Sift it pure of roots and soft dirt.
Quarried deep from the rock-hard hill.
Scrape the red wheelbarrow
Clean of last year’s work, and
Take the sharp-nosed spade, crusted with old cement.
Mix and turn, sand and gravel,
Roughly at first,
Then incessantly, and gently.
Stir in cement with a light hand,
Just a dusting at first,
And watch it closely as it blends.
Play the hose across the accumulating dust,
Just a scrim of spray,
Soft enough to catch and hold the light.
Watch the water blend and draw earth into itself
As it lightly coats the surface.
Then begin to turn again.
Sing as you turn the spade, a work song or old blues,
A rhythm for the flowing life of earth and stone
Stirring under your hands.
Watch if it begins to harden, or run thin:
Too much water and it’s ruined.
Too little and it will not live.
Roll the barrow where it must go.
Add muscle and bone to the work.
And drip your sweat into the mix.
Slide the flowing cement into the frame of wood and steel,
Plank and mesh, prepared to receive it,
To square and strengthen it.
Urge the surging mass with rake or hoe
Into corners, through the mesh,
To its own level.
Wait now as it breathes
For a time, and spreads to fill
The reaches of the form.
Then stand and watch it settle,
Easing its weight back into the earth,
Covering itself with rest.
Brush and trowel it till the surface tightens,
Taut, clean, and hard.
Then hold your breath and don’t turn your back
As it becomes itself.