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I've always loved shop talk, with its wonderful language of tools and techniques. This poem by D. Nurkse of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a perfect example. I especially like the use of the verb, lap, in line seven, because that's exactly the sound a 4-inch wall brush makes. - Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate 2004-2006

Bushwick: Latex Flat

Sadness of just-painted rooms.

We clean our tools

meticulously, as if currying horses:

the little nervous sash brush

to be combed and primped,

the fat old four-inchers

that lap up space

to be wrapped and groomed,

the ceiling rollers,

the little pencils

that cover nailheads

with oak gloss,

to be counted and packed:

camped on our dropsheets

we stare across gleaming floors

at the door and beyond it

the old city full of old rumors

of conspiracies, gunshots, market crashes:

with a little mallet

we tap our lids closed,

holding our breath, holding our lives

in suspension for a moment:

an extra drop will ruin everything.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright 2007 by D. Nurkse, whose newest book of poetry, The Border Kingdom, is forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Poem reprinted from Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn, ed., Julia Spicher Kasdorf & Michael Tyrrell, New York University Press, 2007, by permission of D. Nurkse. Introduction copyright 2008 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as U.S. poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. Unsolicited manuscripts will not be accepted.