valve lash

The shop is a man’s place, a lonely place, and
there’s nothing to think about other than the
length of a rod, the way a piston fits a cylinder,
the gap of a plug, the opening and closing of a
diaphragm, the correct order of things, quitting
time, or the hem of a skirt.

The shop is a noisy place, with the hum of the lift
as it raises and lowers, the whir of a socket on an
air-driven drill, the clang of a wrench as it bounces
from concrete, the foul mouths of mechanics with
blood on black knuckles, and the rhythmless crackle
from stereo speakers, attempting to cover the drone
of the shop fans, set high in the walls.

In the shop, things are done by feel, with
fingertips, and by hands with metal extensions:
Unclip valve cover clips. Pry valve cover off.
Ease in feeler gauge. Gauge should slip with a
slight drag. If not, loosen rockerarm nut, tighten
locknut, readjust. Ease in feeler gauge again.
When finished, check gaskets. Spill oil accumulates
in valve covers. If gasket leaks, loss of oil
may be disastrous.

In the shop, an experienced mechanic doesn’t check
the rotor to see if it points to the spark plug
contact of the cylinder of the valves to be
adjusted. He doesn’t remove part of the fan
housing to check the mark to see if the piston
is in the top center of the firing stroke. He
doesn’t start with a cold engine. He turns the
key to start her, to warm her. He listens to her combust
internally, slips the feeler gauge in as slick
fluids flow through her, and sets the valve lash
by her tone and vibration.

In the shop, the only sweet thing is whatever sweet
thing comes through the shop door or passes on the
street. No time is taken to consider Pandora or
Pandora’s box or Eve or an apple or whether or not
the shop’s dog has been named after a saint who is real.
There’s just that whistle or hey baby! Or a tap on the
shoulder and a knowing nod as they break for a moment,
their ratchets in their hands.

If Midas were a mechanic and not a king, everything
he touched would turn to grease and not gold: the
door to his home, the white linen sheets in his bed,
the veiled face of the woman he marries, her heart.
Cupid doesn’t often fire arrows in the catcalls of
oil stained men. Men regarded as thieves. Men
envisioned as remnants of broken dreams with alloy souls
who scrape at their own locked existence in the bowels
of a transmission. Men who might know Blake’s angels,
and for whom the mermaids sometimes sing.

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  1. I usually hate poetry, but I loved this.

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