mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sport 20: Autumn 1998

Stephanie de Montalk — ‘Blokes can relate to concrete’

page 28

Stephanie de Montalk

Blokes can relate to concrete

In the weeks before he laid the path
to the front door
and put in steps
from the side entrance to the basement

he went to the library and borrowed a manual,
sat weekends at a website,
and talked at length in his lunch hour
with others
who had made the journey before him.

Concrete's a male thing, he said
we appreciate the details of durable materials,
the comparative benefits of embedded metals,

and the step-by-step techniques
by which reinforced steel
in the form of rods, bars, or wires
can be stretched and retracted
to pre-determined limits

better than you do

blokes can relate to it
we have a sense of it

there's a lot more to concrete
than the bonding
of sand and water
with stone and cement,

there's a history of structural form to consider
page 29 think of the lighthouse
after oil lamps, torches, and antiquity

I'm talking about isolated rocks
exposure to the sea,
strength without mass

a slender tower,
a spiral base,
and a design which allows a cylinder
to be set in the sea

think of the way it sets
around the tautly drawn wire
in the curves,
and reinforced spans
of the world's major bridges,

think of the classical example
of the Colosseum,
iron clamps in its joints
enclosed on all sides

and the small volume of poems
around 80 AD
which celebrated its construction.
There are correlations, he murmured

between concrete,
and the visual construction of verse

you can make a poem
out of concrete items
like iron
or eggshells,
page 30 in the case of rain
you can let the letters fall in long slanting lines,

consider e.e. cummings
famous for his typographical eccentricities,

or the visually innovative man
in his workshop

making goddesses for the garden
and gnomes
with knives in their backs.
He is doing a similarly tangible thing.
I'm told that his aliens,
and tyre-marked opossums
are popular

that people have been known
to write the names of their pets
on the necks of the replicas
he makes for them

but perhaps I'm straying nearer to philosophy here—
concrete as distinct from abstract

it's an interesting area—

concrete as real life,
concrete as a bird
balanced with precision
on the uppermost branch of a tree,

as a boy riding a skateboard,

as existential experience

as concrete as rigid paving

page 31

this could mean we are talking
vegetation clearing,
graders and bulldozers

the size and weight of traffic using the highway

the possibility
of underground streams,

a system by which we can carry rainwater,
to shallow gutters
at the edge of the shoulder

and the likelihood of erosion
if the steps are cut
into the wrong sort of hillside

in which case
we'll need a building code
for the slope

and a plan of action
should ground water drain
down the back of the section, and

the earth start to slip
in the absence
of a retaining wall.

Look at this diagram—
and a layer of concrete,

it raises questions of
temperature control
page 32 and warping of the slab
due to moisture variations
between top and bottom

and means that
on a summer's day

hosing of the garden
or lawn
on either side of the pathway,

or more particularly
the steps,

could lead to

and the undignified sight
of concrete
losing its grip on the hillside.

His path to the front door
was an unqualified success

later, he built the steps
to the basement,

and every one of them
was unique.