Solstice Stoker

In this cold dark silence

I am glad that I can

make heat and light and sound.

Half past seven. Must have slept right through

the chirp of the wristwatch.

But c’mon, who cares?

Three hours and more to sunrise, and hey,

it’s not like there’s a flippin’ bus to catch.

I pad barefoot down the stairs,

to the cold and dark and silent hulk

of the big Amish woodstove.

It’s gone right out overnight;

cast-iron top cool to the touch.

After the sweat in the sauna last night I guess I slept right through,

with no three a.m. urge to feed the fire

or step onto the porch and “water the petunias,” shall we say.

An empty paper sack and some little wads of tissue,

dry spruce splits and two smooth rounds of birch,

Strike a match, open the drafts.

Wide open, just let ‘er rip.

I say let’s smell some hot stovepipe today,

see some embers launching in red arcs from the chimney top.

Let those be our solstice celebration.

Fire cleans a chimney better than a brush, every time.

Says who? Says me.

The cabin this morning is a big old sternwheeler grinding slowly upriver,

bucking the current of  the Yukon, the Missouri, the Columbia or Mackenzie.

Or it’s a steam locomotive grunting up some impossible grade in the Rockies,

strained and overloaded, belching black smoke.

The foreman is hollering at the firemen,

“More!”  “Stoke ‘er, boys!”

Light flares in the dark room,

There’s sound, too – a happy crackle from the kindling,

staccato knocks and pings from the water tank alongside the hot pipe.

And heat.  Oh, heat.

Well, today we crest it,

this upstream uphill grind.

Locomotive, sternwheeler, house, planet,

all of them, all of us, take your pick.

There’s the captain yelling again,

he’s just a wild man today,

Shouting down the voice tube to his sweating stokers,

“More!”  “Heat ‘er up, boys!”

“The driest stuff you got! “  “Peg the damned gauges!”

Watch that pipe there, now, it’s gonna cherry right out.

Relax, I got it. 

I’m watchin’ it go red.

I’m hearin’ the burn.

I’m feelin’ the heat.

I’m likin’ that.

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