CoalescenceBaltimore Post-Examiner


I peel leaf-colored

clumps from my shovel.

The clay carries memories,

art class, wonders of the kiln,

the rabbi’s head on a silver

dish atop my grandmother’s

mahogany table, forever pliable and moist,

sculptures adorning the office of my plastic surgeon

who pinned my ears back, wrapping

my head in bandages until my ears were numb,

no longer a part of me or a cause of derision,

“Hey, Dumbo!”


Master gardeners warn amateurs:

Don’t curse the clay.

Realize it’s firm grip,

rooting glorious flowers,

spindly saplings, pungent herbs,

pledging survival against

extreme temperatures,

torrents of rain,

biting winds and snows.


But firmness, alone, say the masters, is not optimal.


I empty a bag of topsoil into the hard-fought

hole now ringed by rocks I

muscled out with the black iron

digging bar I have thrown

like a javelin.


I shovel in the compost,


playing with the dirt and clumps,

kneading, spreading,

mixing the firm and the loose,

returning to boyhood,

dirt and Dumbo.


I envision the blue spruce’s

subterranean roots,

defying the dangers above,

resilient, hawking at adversity.


The firm,

The loose.



Months after a punishing winter,

the spruce’s umbrella opens wider,

fanning its thoroughbred-thin trunk.


I think of balance,

the firm,

the loose,

the leaf-colored clumps,

orange, brick and rust,

the moist black richness,



About the author

Len Shindel

Len Shindel began working at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point Plant in 1973, where he was a union activist and elected representative in local unions of the United Steelworkers, frequently publishing newsletters about issues confronting his co-workers. His nonfiction and poetry have been published in the “Other Voices” section of the Baltimore Evening Sun, The Pearl, The Mill Hunk Herald, Pig Iron, Labor Notes and other publications. After leaving Sparrows Point in 2002, Shindel, a father of three and grandfather of seven, began working as a communication specialist for an international union based in Washington, D.C. The International Labor Communications Association frequently rewarded his writing. He retired in 2016. Today he and his wife, Maxine, live in Garrett County where he enjoys writing, cross-country skiing, kayaking, hiking, fly-fishing and fighting for a more peaceful, sustainable and safe world for his grandchildren and their generation Contact the author.

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