My brother saw a lone hammer on the side of a building in Rockridge: “Take it,” he said; I said no, that’s somebody’s tool, like dad’s. “Then write a poem about it,” he said.
My father had every type of hammer:
Black-handled, rednecked claw hammer, Craftsman, ‘made in America’ (He was proud of that);
Black-handled, rednecked Ball-Peen hammer, Craftsman, ‘Made in America!’ (He made sure to tell me this);
Blondehandled claw hammer; then, a two-pounder, worn, worthy of a warrior who straightened things, metal and moral;
Finishing hammers, hammers that mom did not know about until much after he bought them “This is my money, mijo, don’t tell mama.”
He proudly stated, “look how well-made,” as he showed me the mallets and other hammers that fed us,
And which he used to build the addition to our house, build a garage, frame, shape
He was proudest of those that were his friends, his companions, those he altered, shaped, the steel worn, the ballpeen softened, the rounded ends flattened or bevelled;
For the fence he built on the side of our home, righthandside, as you looked at the house, he used his hammers;
For the metal door he emplaced on the lefthandside, a door he made from sheetmetal He welded, shaped, something from Mexico in the U.S., he used his hammers.
He hammered and hammered, his hearing going as he did so, and I oblivious, was frustrated when he asked me to repeat things.
In Mexico, Papa was a pailero, boilermaker; In the U.S. his work was as a welder, bumper-straightener and chrome-plater;
He wielded hammers at work and at home, forearms bigger than most men’s biceps, biceps rounder than most men’s deltoids.
“Mr. America” is what the pastor of our church called him, if not “Mr. Universe.” He sought priests for counsel and his hammers to shape.
He had a sledge, which as a boy I tried to heft but failed to raise above my shoulders.
He taught me later how to do so safely, effectively, deadly-right. What power I felt and what a gift passed on to me by way of his tool — I felt a warrior, finally.
The accuracy of hammering a nail he taught me, ‘no, mijo, not like that; do it over until you get it right,’ — this time, delicacy.
His hammers went to the four winds after he died: My brothers and their wives borrowed them. They ended up in the back of pickups — stolen; in garages, lost (divorces).
There is an emptiness in my heart and soul for those hammers, like the emptiness I filled when I visited Toledo, España where I found our name, Vela, amidst craftsmen,
Men using, wielding tiny hammers, making out of gold and silver earrings, pendants, wonders, tiny jewels they emplaced with tiny hammers brought me back to him
His work, his name, his purpose.
And I having found that forebears in Toledo used hammers to make of Damascus steel
Swords, shields, and armor for warriors felt closer to him, my hammer my pen, my page metal shape, my words the indentations, impact, bent ideas, but memory all the same.
David Vela was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada to Tlaxcaltecan and Pueblan parents, father and mother respectively. He is the ninth of nine children, five of whom were born in Apizaco, Tlaxcala, Mexico, one in Puebla, Mexico and the others in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Hijo de soldador y pailero, a mother who was indomitable and self-educated in three languages, David studied at Yale and the Claremont Graduate School literature in English, Irish and Latin American authors, and has devoted 25 years to teaching literatures of Native Americans, Latin Americans, French (in French), Irish and British authors; he also loves and reads and has taught authors in Italian, including Dante and Petrarch, Boccaccio and Eugenio Montale.
David was lead instructor in Paris in 2006 in a Study-Abroad program, teaching Latin American and American expatriate authors in a French Life and Culture course, and a course on terrorism and the French experience in Algeria during the Algerian war for independence. David has worked with military veterans and with Social Science professionals as writer and Editor. He was President of the Irish Literary & Historical Society of San Francisco, the only non-Irish or non-Irish American do be elected to that position for and continues to be a Board Member of that organization. He was Chair of the Irish-Mexican Association of the Bay Area for several years, recognizing the common historical and cultural connections between these cultures, and emphasized the prominence of heroes in first-responder professions from these cultures.
David has worked with ambassadors and political personages in valuing and in disseminating culture in Ireland, Argentina, Mexico and in the United States, Northern Ireland and in the San Francisco Bay Area.
He currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada after living in the Bay Area for 28 years.