The relationship between father and son is explored in Tom Petsinis’s sixth poetry collection My father’s tools, published by Arcadia. The poetry, accompanied by the artwork of Jim Pavlidis, is series of poems, each named after a tool in Petsinis’s deceased father’s toolbox. Although each short poem can be enjoyed in isolation, the power lies in reading them together, chronologically. As a whole, the collection paints a portrait of a complex relationship – father and son – beginning at the surface and chiselling deeper to its core.
This was my first read of Tom Petsinis and from the first page I was gripped by the sadness and loss. With a melancholy rhythm and rhyme, each word carefully thought out and placed, Petsinis carried me on an emotional journey and had me reflecting on experiences with my own father, and the inadequacy children of migrants feel when they don’t meet expectations.
Petsinis begins with this pressure of expectation in the poem ‘Pencil’, and describes finding his father’s pencil in the toolbox before beginning this book:
A lifetime later, and heading your advice,
I’m scribbling on concrete, drafting this
The gap between tradesman father and writer son is apparent in this poem, and so is Petsinis’s need to make sense of the relationship and pay tribute to his father’s legacy.
Progressing through the collection, the nine piece poem ‘Adze’ is a snapshot of his father’s entire life, beginning in the villages of Greek Macedonia and reflecting on the heartache felt by parents sending their children away in the hope of a better life, then moving on to the migration to Australia and the feelings of misplacement and nostalgia living in suburban Fitzroy in the 60s. Condensing a lifetime in just a few pages, I was overwhelmed by emotions usually felt over longer durations in these few minutes of reading:
Grandmother blessed your suitcase
With a sprinkling of red wine,
Packing this tool, an icon of St George
‘Scissors’, the poem that resonated with me the most, describes the scissors Petsinis’s mother would use for cutting calico, and how when she died, her scissors fell to his father’s toolbox, ‘their stainless steel colder than chisel or file’:
When you descended into her grave,
(Together again, like angled blades closing as one),
They challenged my left-handed daughters,
Who adjusted to accommodate them:
Snipping springs of the basil you planted for us,
Mum’s roses overflowing with womanhood
This poem invoked unease in me, and this was further accentuated by Pavlidis’s black and white image of a pair of scissors descending underground, into the earth.
Throughout this powerful collection of imagery, references to religion and the Balkan war continued to emerge. The further I progressed into My father’s tools, the more I realised that these heavy, rusty tools, used as an over-arching theme for the collection, were really a metaphor for the heavy, rusty unspoken words between father and son. These ‘tools’, which Petsinis keeps in his life, like the horseshoe that served as a deadweight on his desk, are a constant reminder of his father, and are tools which, no matter how much they weigh him down, he cannot let go of, because they are all he has left:
It’s been a decade since you died,
But they remain, a legacy of sorts,
Set by your galvanising touch.
I see you in the shape of my hand
Rummaging for the nail
That crucifies father to son.
A highly recommended read for lovers of poetry, but also for readers interested in themes relating to migrants and the children of migrants.