Machinist of Love

The sign said, Machinist Of Love.
And he took my battered pump.
With spanner, riffler, callipers, lathe,
he worked all the bent and bloody years
into an ordered life.
With such precision he worked;
creating a surface without flaw.
Atom-smooth,Anthing of Value bw
perfect clearance,
exacting tolerance.
Friction-free, he said,
within the social cylinder,
this piston would now glide.
Fear, heat, desire indifferent.
No glance of love’s longing,
no blue summer evening,
no walk in warm rain,
to leave a sullying stain.
With that I met the world,
my retooled heart gleaming
and impervious.


  1. Stephen,
    For months, I have been trying to wade through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – something I had never read. Your poem reminds me of some of the themes in that book (at least as I am interpreting it), but is so eloquently worded. I think many of us could use some retooling of the heart!

  2. …I agree, Diane. I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a long time ago, but it’s worth getting through because the words stay with you for life. Stephens poem does remind me of the relationship the human spirit has with the seemingly impervious machining…the experiences that groove and stain us – I think I’ll keep, otherwise I’ll have to learn that lesson all over again!

  3. Thank you Diane and thank you Joyce. ‘Retooling’ can mean different things to different people. The other way to read this poem is as a failure to engage human life in all it’s sticky, broken woundedness. A kind of mechanical turning away, a retreat from real flesh and blood love.

  4. Interesting Stephen. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but then again, my current reading most certainly influenced how I perceived this. But as difficult as facing the sticky, broken woundedness can be sometimes, if we don’t do this, are we truly experiencing living? My other read right now is on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. A most difficult read (emotionally draining), but a most before I travel there in a few weeks.

  5. Precisely Diane, life isn’t lived outside of messy engagement. A “machined” heart is a lie. What you’re reading right now must be exactly about such engagement.

    You do lead an interesting life! May you experience everything you’re supposed to as you travel to South Africa.

  6. I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a long time ago too, and bought a motorcycle. Then we adopted a baby girl and I sold the motorcycle because I wanted to live to see her grow up. In my ecclesiastical tradition we speak of formation ….

  7. Stephen – the book is Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog, a poet and journalist.
    I am headed to South Africa to attend the U.N. climate meetings (COP17) – the third year in a row attending these as a member of civil society. These experiences have had a profound effect – turning a science and environmental issue into one of humanity and climate justice for me.
    But going to South Africa has a special meaning given its history and my life-long fascination with the continent. Before going to Durban, I will be in Cape Town visiting the head of the Moravian Church in the country (who visited our campus last spring). We will go to the oldest mission outpost in Africa (Moravians, 1738), tour Cape Town, and talk about forgiveness in the context of Truth and Reconciliation.
    Yes, I do indeed lead an interesting life. I am so blessed to have the opportunities I do. I only wish I could write as beautifully as you and others from Wildbranch so I could tell some of the stories that are in my memories from these opportunities.

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