950: from FIXER

950: from FIXER

950: from FIXER

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Shira Erlichman.


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

In our old apartment, if it wasn’t one thing, it was another. A storm could mean the ceiling would split, we’d have to grab a bucket to hold back the leak. Sometimes, large swaths of ceiling would ripple. We’d throw an old painter’s tarp across the bookcase and our valuables, and hope for the best. Or it was the toilet, the handle jiggling dysfunctionally. Twice a bottle of vitamins fell from the cabinet and cracked the cheap sink. Holes, everywhere. Even when fixed, they’d return.

When our fridge broke mid-summer, the whole apartment reeked of spoil. The landlord was slow and barely bothered to respond. So much hinged on gritting our teeth, waiting, or when we could, fixing things ourselves. We refloored the kitchen, sticky vinyl square by sticky vinyl square. And the hallway, and the make-shift studio. We fixed what we could. Besides being old and hardly-maintained by management, the building was a living being, prone to moods. To fix her was an illusion. What we did was temporarily subdue, patch up, cover over.

When we were able to move, it was to a three-family house. A garden out front, a porch, and a back deck where our downstairs neighbors hold big family get-togethers come summertime. There are, of course, still things to fix. The toilet goes wonky. The house runs cold and requires a collaboration of space heaters. But overall, we’re attended to by the landlord when things go south.

In this new reality, it’s clear that the need to fix hasn’t gone away. At 2 AM at our desks, my partner Angel and I tinker with poems. All day long the puppy needs redirection, the cat, his medicine. We pore over a calendar to split chores and plan work trips and to mutter aloud if this is the year we’ll get to take a vacation. A year into living here, many walls are still bare. We’ve hung a shelf here, a frame there, bought baskets to hold clutter, noodled our way through IKEA instructions. The to-do list shortens, then swells again.

There was a Sunday afternoon, recently, where the pets were asleep and we found ourselves side by side on the couch. Angel opened a new book, FIXER by Edgar Kunz, and without meaning to, we started to read it silently, side by side. One poem, then another, until––we laughed––we had read the whole thing. In a world constantly falling out of tune, we had naturally tuned into each other. In this excerpt, a mother speaks to her son about his alcoholic father, and about the limitations of our hands.

from FIXER
by Edgar Kunz

I held him together
as long as I could, she says.

He stopped working,
stopped coming upstairs.

He was like tissue paper
coming apart in water.

Like smoke in my hands.
It had nothing to do

with you, baby. You left
when you had to.

I met a woman once 
who worked on pianos.

Said it was a hard job.
The tools, the leverage.

The required ear. I love it,
she said, but it’s brutal.

The second I step away
it’s already falling out of tune.

from FIXER by Edgar Kunz. Copyright (c) 2023 by Edgar Kunz. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.