Gray light, early morning, witch-cold.
In the stove-box just two inches of ash,
And a few glowing orange pebbles
refusing to die just yet.
Now the price of the dark evening’s
warm laziness comes due: No dry wood
stacked ready on the hearth.
But first things first.
Coffee, rich scented scoops of it and
Ice-cold water, a puff of cinnamon for whimsy.
It brews, chuffing, the reward for taking
My punishment like a man.
So I tie boots with waffled rubber grips
On sleepy, stiff feet that protest the indignity
Of being shoved into canvas and leather
Without asking first. Bad knee gripes, ignored.
Coat shrugged on, work fingers into stiff leather gloves;
A straw garden hat, broad brimmed, a little tattered
Will do for shelter.
Arctic air shocks the mind awake,
Steam puffs from mouth, snowflakes find cheeks and sting.
A garden hat! Must have been asleep.
My bed sings a siren song, beckoning, seductive,
Oh, so warm and the damn cat’s still there,
curled soft into empty blankets, dreaming of mouse-blood.
But what does he know of bare skin?
Dog romps, laughing, skidding in snow
all joyous, white spots speckling his red-gold fur. Well, he
can play but there’s work for me.
Pull the tarp off the woodpile, heavy snow slides but stays
Holding it in place as the wind blows.
Cusswords, a heave of muscles and
Yes, there’s the stacked wood, dry and cinnamony,
Smelling of autumn, promising warmth.
Gloved hands grip heavy stovelengths,
Lift, toss across the garden towards the door, lazy
Even now. Grip, lift, heave, over and over
Hey, watch out, dog, here comes another.
Muscles grow warm, body flexes, toss more.
Eight, ten, sixteen, okay twenty
should last until the next time, say it’s enough.
Dog sits, butt in snow, happy.
Twitch tarp back in place
Anchor it with split pine logs, oh,
Grab a few of those, too, great icebreakers for the fire party.
Lift, toss now, light as feathers after almond-wood.
Snow slides off garden hat’s brim (this was dumb)
and finds warm neck skin to melt on, gleeful.
The open canvas carrier waits
Ready for it’s work.
Now four trips outside to inside,
Almond-wood is dense, rock-hard, unforgiving
of bruisable shins, carrier weighs a ton.
Chunk the lengths into the wood-ring
Snow plops off, white on gray hearth-stones
In a moment, just a black puddle.
Sweating now, under coat
Breath steaming outside, hot inside
Call the dog; What, no snowballs? What a gyp.
Life’s a bitch, boyo, have a biscuit.
Hang the silly garden hat on its summer nail
Coat ripped off, hooked by the door
Gloves can live next to the stove, drying out
For the next time.
Now, time for fire. First crackly newsprint
Crumpled, Board Vote Unanimous For/
Then soft pine, sticks shaved off splits
with the small hearth ax, stacked criss-crossed and
on top more pine, then the gold
The almond, solid, red sienna, rough dry bark
Gray as the snow-sky.
Strike a wooden kitchen match
It flares, touch to newspaper and watch the
Magic curl of smoke, the sudden flame
Oh, yes. Pine takes it eagerly, and there’s
The blaze, that first, sweet heat.
Sweat’s cold on my back now, knee yells as
I stand and stretch.
And the coffee is done.