Roy McInnes


Roy McInnes is a welder. He spends his life
with chains and block and tackle, steel and torches,
lives his days inside a hood looking like
a medieval warrior, peering through a small rectangle
of blackened glass, watching light brighter than the sun.
He listens to the groan of generators, the crack and snap
of an electric arc liquefying steel. His hands
are always dark and on his upper lip there is
a mustache
as if wiped there by a greasy finger.

Roy McInnes is a small man and frail.
He speaks quietly and slowly and moves that way.
He seems at ease inside his body, comfortable there.
When you shake his hand his grip is warm and gentle
and you can feel the calm he carries in his person
flow into your arm.

Roy and I were visiting one day, years ago,
after we had got to know each other some,
and we got to talking about work
and I said, because I was afraid to tell the truth,
that I’d just about rather garden than do anything,
to which Roy responded, and there seemed to be
some sadness in his voice,
“Well I don’t know about just about.
All I know is what I’d rather do than anything.

I’d rather weld.”


Roy’s truck is an extension of himself,
which is not to be confused with the way some people
buy a fancy car with velour seats, electric windows
and suddenly start wearing cardigans and oxfords, suddenly become
little more than yet another piece of optional equipment.
In Roy’s life it is the truck that gets transformed.

I met his truck the day I first met him.
Not that he introduced me or anything like that,
it’s just you can’t help noticing.

When Roy bought the truck new-to-him, it was just a pickup,
a common insect like a million others identical to it.
He brought it home, put it in his shop and six weeks later
it emerged a strange, metallic butterfly, unique and fanciful,
translated to
an articulation of his private vision,
a function of Roy’s need and whimsy.

New, the truck was rated at three-quarter ton,
but with the added braces to the frame, heavier shocks,
special springs, dual rear wheels and heavy duty tires
it can carry four.

Roy cut the bed away right down to the frame
and welded on a diamond-plate floor and roof,
using two inch steel pipe for posts, one at each four corners,
one in the middle on each side. Then up forward,
toward the cab and half-way back, he welded
sheet metal walls and welded shelves to them
and all the shelves have doors on hinges, all made of steel.
There are hooks and clamps welded to the walls everywhere
so when he goes down a bumpy road his tools won’t bounce around.

Roy McInnes is a carpenter who builds with steel,
with boiler plate and torches.
In place of nails he binds his dream
with hydrogen and oxyacetylene.

Shaper, moulder, alchemist,
intermediary, priest,
his hands communicate a vision,
they create with skill and grace
an act of intercession between reality and need.


Roy’s house and shop are on the edge of town.
The shop was built in stages.
The tall center section with its steep-pitched roof
is sided with slabs from the local mill, whereas
the lean-to shed on the left
is particle board; the one on the right is Homasote.

Some people say it’s ugly, but what they can’t, or won’t,
understand is: the sidings write a history
of its construction. Rome wasn’t built in a day either.

When Roy built the center section he needed an opening
large enough to admit big trucks, like loggers’ rigs,
but couldn’t afford the kind of rising, jointed,
overhead doors gas stations and garages have
so he found a way to use ordinary storm doors,

the kind with glass so get could get some lit in there,
by hitching them with hinges side to side
and stacking them three high so now he’s got
two folding doors which make an opening fifteen feet wide
and seventeen feet high: two doors of doors
made from eighteen smaller doors.

Roy heats the shop with a homemade, quadruple-chamber,
oil-drum stove: four fifty-five gallon drums:
two side by side above one, the fire box, and one above the two:
a glowing diamond of cylinders all welded to each other
and held apart by rods and all connected by a pipe
which leads the smoke from one drum to another and finally,
when it has bled the smoke of heat, exits to the chimney.

Beyond the stove at the back of the shop
stacked willy-nilly against the wall
there is an intricate confusion of iron pipes, cast iron scraps,
angle iron, sheets of aluminum and steel, diamond plate,
expanded metal, loops of heavy wire and braided cable
and a half-dozen categories of other things I can’t identify—
a mine, the raw material of his dreams.

The shop is always cluttered, dirty and there is
a permanent grime that clings to everything.
Generators and tanks of gas and orange rubber hoses
snaked across the floor. The place smells of oil and grease,
of that molecular rearrangement of the air the welder’s arc

This is a place where—against the grinder’s scream and whine,
the moan of generators straining, the crackling spit of metal
rent asunder—human speech is pointless, drowned
in a cacophony of human voices. And when the machines
get still, it is a place to see through the smoky fog
something medieval, brooding, dark, fantastical.

It would be so easy to see this place as sinister,
to see the wizard/priest who rules this lair as evil,
that would be so easy if
you didn’t know that he is Roy—
the one who lets the calm of his body flow into your arm
when you touch his hand.


Stand in the highway; look at the shop straight on;
pretend it isn’t what it is; get beyond its function.
Look at its lines, at the proportions of height to width,
sheds to center section—an early Christian basilica,
or something Gothic.

The tall center section, narrow, steep-roofed—the nave.
The sheds—the aisles,
roofed over flying buttresses.
And those doors of doors are cathedral doors.

There are no rose windows here, no clestory, no triforium,
no vaulted ceilings or clustered piers, and it’s ratty,
but it soars—not too high or very gracefully
but it soars.

It is a January day.
The doors of doors fold open.
Roy appears in hood and grimy apron.

Then, just down the road, smoking through the village,
the penitent comes, the one who seeks the healing touch
of fire.

Guy Desjardins, trucker of logs and lumber
who just this morning while loading the biggest butt-log beech
he ever saw in his life, snapped the boom.
The truck lurches down the road, clam and boom dangling,
a wounded beast, Gargantua’s broken arm. Guy shifts down,
pulls to the doors of doors and in.

There are no acolytes, no choir
but the engine sings its cracked and pulsing song
and the censer spurts heady clouds of smoke to the rafters.

The doors come closed, truck shuts down
and for a moment Guy and Roy stand
before the diamond juggernaut of cylinders, their hands
outstretched in ritualistic adulation, readied for the altar
of cutting flame: The Mass of Steel and Fire.

From the clutter of his accidental reredos
Roy brings an angle iron. A ball peen hammer bangs,
generator moans, light arcs and snaps, steel flows
a second time—a liquid, balm, metallic salve
and the healing touch.

:: David Budbill, in Working Classics: Poems on Industrial Life

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