My mother prided herself on her fires,
and on every step from cold grate to snapping blaze.
Felled trees, hardwood stacked roadside,
was heaved and rolled into her Cadillac trunk
without irony. She could swing the ax overhead
and drive it deep in the heart of a log.
She cradled the long yellow shavings and splinters of kindling
against her belly like a baby to bring them in.
To this day, the sound of ripping newspaper carries me
back to that sooty hearth,
the rip-spark of a match,
the quick catch, the longer, slower burn.
Beside that hot little fireplace
I used to wonder which woman was my mother–
the French-twisted, high-heeled bookkeeper of the morning,
or the log-splitting fire-maker of late afternoon.
The glowing coals gave me no answer.
The popping sparks disappeared upward into a troubled darkness.
Now, most days, both the teasing comb and the wedge
have been laid aside. The fancy shoes don’t travel
from their snug boxes. The ash bucket, the gray shovel
are undisturbed on all but the coldest days.
Like nesting dolls, those remembered mothers
have opened to reveal an older, smaller one,
a last, self-contained mystery,
blanket over knees, lace-up Oxfords,
close by a ceramic heater
on the shortening November afternoons.
joining, at least for today,
in these daily prompts for November,
found via The Habit of Being