The other day I was reading a poem written by Su Tung Po in 1097, over a thousand years ago, and realized that it was talking about me, right now in 2015, using such perfectly wrought words, I saw the most ordinary moment differently. Here is a fragment*

Sound sleep, sea of inner breath stirring;
boundless, it ascends to the cerebral palace.
The sun comes up, dew not yet dried,
dense mist shrouding the frosty pines.
This old comb’s been with me so long –
teeth missing, still it makes fresh breezes.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

I have a comb with teeth missing that I use daily. It was once a beautiful rectangular tortoise shell-ish comb given to me by a friend. Over the years, one tooth broke off, and then another, and another. Often I didn’t even see when it happened…until the comb became transformed. Now the toothless part has become a handle, making it easier to use. The old comb has an odd beauty; it reminds me of my friend and all the life it’s accompanied me through. It is useful in a new way.  It still makes fresh breezes.

It got me thinking about the tools I’ve had that have broken over the years and become…something else in doing so. Like the long thin salmon slicer whose blade snapped partially off one day when I was using it to try to slice through the old caulk between the countertop and the cabinet. Snap! What to do?

I had the knife man grind the jagged edge into a curve to make an oddly stubby knife that has proven endlessly useful, mostly for working around the house. Because it’s already broken, I don’t worry about hurting it.

My Greek grandmother used this old fork with its bent tines to cook with; it was her main utensil for testing if the lamb in her stew was tender, or scrambling eggs, or breaking open a baked potato.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

This very old REAL tortoise spoon given to me by a beau when I was twenty had a handle then. Somewhere along the line it broke off. The bowl part is curiously perfect for scooping sugar into coffee or tea.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

One of the guys that worked on my renovation made this: a fragment of a saw turned into a handheld double-sided tool with a blue tape handle. One side is serrated and the other honed into a knife blade. Awesome!

Sally Schneider

Got any tools that transformed into something unexpectedly useful?


Poem: Getting Up in the Morning and Combing my Hair, from Three Delights in My Place of Exile, from Selected Poems of Su Tung-P’o


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One thought on “When Broken Tools Reveal New Usefulness (Su Tung Po)

  1. Broken coffee mugs become lovely containers for fresh flowers. And worn out full of holes running shoes become whimsical garden containers complete with natural drainage. I am dreaming of a garden of sneakers one day! The runner’s herb garden…could be improvised soon.

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