Sunday, August 23, 2009

Patricia Prime: The Hand Press

My fiancé kept a hand printing press in his bedroom. He was a printer by trade and bought the press to make extra money. Two nights a week were spent printing invitations, business cards and letterheads.
The moveable metal type was kept in small boxes, each letter taken out individually and arranged into lines to form text, headings, captions. After the type was set and tightened, it was tapped into place. The paper was fed into the machine and rollers spread the ink under the pressure of the press. Several proofs had to be "run off" to ensure even coverage, clean print and correct order of type, which was positioned in a "mirror image"—something a skilled compositor could do in minutes.
winter evening
the smell of chemicals
drifts from the window
the cat is stirred
from her sleep on the tiles
My task was to clean and "break" the type after the job was completed. Each letter had to be cleaned and placed back in the correct tray which was a lengthy and tedious process.
My future mother-in-law kept a wary eye on us. She'd interrupt every half-hour or so, with tea, a plate of biscuits, or a stern warning it was time for me to go. All this subterfuge to mask her worry over what—disguised by the clunk of heavy machinery—might be taking place in the bedroom.
up and down the stairs
weathered floorboards
thud beneath the press
as she retrieves
cups and plates
After washing with industrial soap it was time to leave the room smelling of chemicals and ink. Cards laid out on the drying stacks. We walked home hand-in-hand.
low in the sky
a crescent moon
bright and shiny
like the letter 'C'
in the compositor's tray
by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand
first published in
Modern English Tanka V3, N1 (Autumn 2008)

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