For want of a nail…

For Sarah’s dverse prompt. An object held in the hand and discovered. I hope a haibun counts.


They were precious then, nails, handmade each one, each head unique, each with a story. Used and reused, prised out carefully from this beam, hammered into that door. Flat sided, bent at the end, this one, but intact. Rusty now with age—it’s damp up there with only hay above and scampering dormice. We’ve kept them all as we’ve taken them out carefully from beams where they held up strings of onions, garlic, flitches of ham. Time moves on, like woodworm and modern ideas of interior lighting, the need for clarity and paint, not so much for flitches of ham. But we’ve not thrown them away. Respect perhaps, and unwillingness to be the first to throw away a thing of such value. I roll this piece of domestic history between finger and thumb, feeling the weight of centuries of stone and wooden beams in the flaking orange dust and wonder will I leave such a mark on this house?

Iron tacked in wood

keeps the otherworld at bay

these end of year nights.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

46 thoughts on “For want of a nail…”

  1. Gosh, I guess in pioneer structured in ghost towns, there might have been some hand made nails, but I never realized it. Thanks for the furthering of my education. Your haibun works superbly.

  2. So much evoked by something so simple. There’s something very special about handling something made by hand so long ago. So much history. Love your haiku, and the reminder of the folklore around cold iron.

  3. I love this piece of history in a nail, Jane, and the title’s brilliant! Your haiku reminded me of the Spellbound exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford, which we went to last week – all about witchcraft. They had various objects, including iron nails to ‘keep the otherworld at bay’. It was a fascinating exhibition, quite a few artefacts from Norfolk, and lots of inspiration for poems and stories there. I’m sure we have a few handmade nails in parts of our cottage, which is over 150 years old, and the house next door to us, which is attached, even has its own ghost!

    1. My husband was brought up in a cottage that dated back to the mid 1400s. Everything that could be was pegged then. The Norsemen didn’t use nails at all in most houses. We’ve come a long way from nature, haven’t we?

  4. I think something that a handmade nail with such history can evoke a lot of thoughts… i hope you will find a new use for them somewhere… We have a door in the basement where our predecessor has used old nails and hinges to model it as a piece of art.

    1. Iron is part of European folklore, used to keep evil supernatural things away. Why you’d hang a horseshoe on your door for example. It’s not for ‘luck’ but to keep evil away.

  5. Wonderfully romantic. How do you always create these great stories? Yes, I can not throw away any of these old things too. Which at that time they are produced costs not only a lot of money, but also a lot of work.
    Think of the ancient skythe from the beginning of the 20th century. 😉

  6. A wonderful take on the prompt. I love the details in the story of the nails. So many creations like this that are not given the time of day. Sort of like us sometimes! Your Haiku was perfect. I at first thought your last line said at the end of “lightyears!” Then I reread it.
    Iron tacked in wood
    keeps the otherworld at bay
    these end of year nights.

  7. LOVE this! Such wonderful details of the “life” these handmade nails have had. Especially love that they held strings of garlic, perhaps bunches of drying lavender? from the barn beams. I’m always amazed when I look at the square peg nails in our antiques. And I’ve always loved visiting the blacksmith’s building in those historical villages.

    1. Thank you! No lavender in these parts Lillian, and you can’t eat it so they wouldn’t have bothered with it even if it did grow here 🙂 They dried tobacco in the attic though they never grew it on this farm, but they hung the edible stuff like onions and garlic from the beams in the kitchen to stop visiting wildlife getting at them.

  8. I like the layers of this write, the descriptions and analogies of leaving a mark on this world. Those ancient, rusty nails may have something on us. They have weathered the storm.

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