With strong hands
and the burnished smell of leather
stacked to the ceiling on skids,
visored and aproned, knives honed
on hides they will trim into sweatbands,
the cutters begin their work.
They trace a rim of brass
guiding blade through calfskin
steady as a scalpel.
These men understand the grained voice
leather whispers to their hands,
the secret of where to cut,
how much sweat cries from a forehead,
the caress of skin on skin
in the heaven of a hat.
I was a boy who spent summers
stacking bands they cut, packed them into cases
by the gross, the boss' son they let watch from a distance.
My father chose hides from tanneries in Salem and Peabody
more carefully than some men choose wives.
He knew bandsaws, bills of lading and leather's brutal secrets,
but never told them where to cut.
And late afternoons, sun plunging through the skylight
his strong hand relaxed on my shoulder,
we would watch the regular slice of men at work,
the tender smell of leather in the air.
© CME LLC
Read more of Dr. Berlin's work.