You Built the Fire

Poem for Mother on the first year without her.Cozy flannel and rocking chairs.

Comfy lap and soft hands,

sweet soothing lullabies-

You made us new pajamas every year.

I got to string the elastic through!

Laundry every Monday morning-

watching you haul

the monstrous washing machine

to the kitchen sink.

steaming kettles, boiling water.

Scary mouthed wringer gobbling our clothes,

fearlessly nimble, your graceful hands keeping  it fed.

It’s going to eat your fingers!

Did we know how hard your life was then?

In midwest extremes, no matter steaming hot or bitter cold-

practically capable, red, roughened hands

hanging huge baskets of wringer-smashed clothes–

a week’s worth

for our family of seven.

Blasting winds

calmly handled like a ship’s captain,

wrestling wet bulky sheets,

billowing sails over green grass seas.

Tucking us in to fresh bedding every Monday night–

the best night for sleeping!

distilled essence of sunshine and breezes.

Did we understand how much you did for us?

Freezing dark mornings,

waking to you singing,

a cheery little song we hated

covering our heads, grumbling and complaining.

why didn’t we  get it?

You’d already been up for hours.

You’d built the fire.

So that we could run quick shivering from unheated bedrooms

fleeing ice picks and frost bite.

So that we could land safely near the fire to get dressed,

belly to coal stove belly,  face hot, back cold?

Every Saturday baking day-

your hands, sure and strong,

kneading mountains of swollen dough,

forming perfect loaves–

Did we comprehend the treasure?

a week’s worth of home made Swedish rye

direct from oven to hungry mouths?

Smelling like love, smelling like home.

The rarest of riches!

Cinnamon rolls!  Donuts! Bisquits!

from scratch fresh weekly like  a clock we depended on.

Bedtime reading– stories vivid and alive!

A truly inspired reader,

giving every character their perfect voice–

cats and rabbits and witches and angels

bad guys and good guys and fairies and wranglers!

My first glimpse of the magic of theater

came from you reading to me.

My love affair with poetry

started with your inspired poems.

It’s your fault.

You created a family of addictive readers,

shameless bookworms-

Instilling in us the passion for a good book,  potent prose,

the thrill of  fantasy fulfilled.

Little Women, Peter Rabbit, The Boxcar Children

Scraping together ironing money to join the Book-of the-Month club,

offering us the world

in that otherwise lackluster, library-less tiny, one horse prairie town.

Other talents didn’t transfer so well.

I who use safety pins and iron on-tape

still remember with awe

your clever hands expertly creating

school clothes and Easter dresses and tailored suits–

On that ancient treadle machine.

Your feet pumping and pumping,

whizzing up and down

up and down

up and down so fast

I thought you would fly away!

Straight seams seemingly effortless

Complex patterns magically transformed

Cotton velveteen corduroy.

I loved

Singing beside you at church.

You always knew the harmony.

I was very impressed because everybody else

mumbled along like half formed lumps of clay,

half asleep

hit or miss, mostly miss.

you sang sweet and clear

directly from your heart

“I come to the Garden alone,

while the dew is still on the roses.”

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