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Ken Poyner

The Noble Expectation


I hold the contract to make the metal blade. I can take a thin sheet of steel and hammer it into shark quickness, turn it into a wedge that will fall and quietly pry an opening through any pair of a number of vertebrae. A release to gravity, and the head is gone: quick as the overbite of dry lightning. My job is to craft the blade into an unwavering bearing, yet easy to clean; heavier at the top than at the bottom in a serious and proper ratio to ensure it stays in its rails, yet is light enough to be hauled manually up, heavy enough to fall with the speed to get through even the toughest of fear-thickened yeomen’s necks.


Someone else will have the contract to put the wood in place. I am no carpenter. I could learn if they would let me, but for the moment I need to content myself with metal work, with the joy of steel curling like freshwater rapture from the main block, with shine forced into the flat side of the blade like education into a child. My mind is all metal and I work my mind’s will with clamshell fingers and a heart of mollusk determination.

But I will assist the carpenter, let him know how strong the wood must be, how much passion it will need to take at top and bottom, how much thrash to expect. He in turn will buy his nails commercially, advising the vendor how long the nails must hold; what sort of torque will be placed on them; how, like fish in an aquarium, they will be seen collectively by some, individually by others: but the lives of the nails must be contained in one construction, one gathering to a purpose.


Then there is the man who makes the wheels. He will need spokes and an axle and cotter pins and hard case rubber. His assistants will push the execution machine like a wheelbarrow of migrating water, expecting the end of their work to be the beginning of other work: happy to wrestle one part of the process, happy to be one fish in the school.


We have no capital penalty. All of our collective mortal arts are made idle in that the threat of execution is as limp as the sheets of a childless couple drying outside in the aftermath of a thunderstorm. I and my fellow workmen are thirsty with hope, but dustily under-employed by a forgiving judiciary. Our longing is the brand marking that the temperately moist infant girl of a sailor’s whore wears on the small of her back.


Think of the miners and foresters and rubber plantation workers; think of all the people who have a hand in creating this one machine; of how much employment, and of the long waving blooms of profit. The land is put to good use; products are developed; transportation is required; skill is applied and paid for. Those who have always eaten eat more; those who could not eat finally take up eating. The grocers are happy.


By this effort, a greater shared joy is our daily expectation. The legislature will see how much is accomplished, how much is trawled out of the great ocean of our efforts. Our idleness will have been simply a tempered waiting. The law could change.