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Sign Writer’s Assistant
by Oz Hardwick

Sign Writer’s Assistant sounded perfect,
an illuminated serif linking art school to fame.
But the reality is straining with an eight-foot board
on a scaffold we’ve built from cocky luck.

Neither of us knows a jack from a ledger,
but we throw it up four storeys, scattering
pigeons over patchwork roofs, in the city
where the term dinosaur was coined in 1841.

Here in metropolitan sky, the sign becomes
the wing of a doomed pterosaur, lurching
to extinction, to be discovered, millennia later,
by an amateur archaeologist.

I am that archaeologist, uncovering steel ribs,
wooden feathers, fossils of rust, chipping away
at dispersing clouds, lost in fragments,
dusting signs: a novice in the art of not falling.

IMAGE: “Pez Dispenser” by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1984).

Oz Hardwick by Richard Sainsbury

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Just after I left Plymouth Art College (UK) in 1980, I had a casual job helping a sign writer when he needed an extra pair of hands to put up his handiwork. The most memorable occasion was when we had to build a scaffolding tower — which neither of us had done before – in order to put a very large, very heavy board on the side of a factory on a very windy day. We lived. When last visiting the city, about 18 months ago, I happened to be in the area and saw that the factory has gone, replaced by new buildings. My memory, however, dusted off the fragments and pieced them together as best I could. Little-known fact: the word dinosaur was first recorded at an archaeological meeting in Plymouth in 1841.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Artist”  (c. 1980) by fellow student Richard Sainsbury.

Oz Hardwick Chicago

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Oz Hardwick is a writer, photographer, and academic living in the north of England. He has published five poetry collections, a book on medieval wood carvings, and a whole heap of music journalism. His song cycle, The House of Memory, with music by Peter Byrom-Smith, will be released by Debt Records in July 2017.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Taken at the top of The John Hancock Center, Chicago. I still can’t resist climbing up buildings — though prefer doing it on the inside these days.