It’s dark now that the clocks have been changed and in the evening all one
can think about is activating the wood burner and settling in with the hope
that something interesting will be on the television. I go out scavenging
for wood- from skips, with permission, or just appropriating blown down
twigs and slender branches. After a walk I look like a babuschka trundling
home in a Chekhov landscape, or Babuschka Baba Yaga, to be more precise.
When I was little I was unfamiliar with the concept of a wood burner, but
very au fait with the actuality of a coal fire. Here is a poem that I wrote
The Coal Man
Once a week the coal man called with his sack
of bulging hessian, a shouldered sheep
wrapped round his sooty neck, his black back
bent double. He left a glistening heap
in bunkers, bawled on like a hoarse banshee.
Peeping from behind the curtain, my eye
would meet his own and in childish fancy,
its balefulness predestined that I’d die,
cursed by the red-lipped golliwog’s fixed stare.
His load was the object of poker, tongs,
its coke-corrupted, crackling dross the flare
of a chimney fire; feeling which belongs
with hearth mythology, childhood’s subtle
fears of elemental forces. The guard
was prohibition’s symbol; the scuttle
source of adult power to ignite flames barred
to the uninitiated. Daybreak
began with vestal rituals, the sweeping
of ash, its careful wrapping. I would wake
to a smoky haze, the first blue leaping
through yesterday’s newspapers. A stray spark
had to be stamped before it took its hold:
individuality’s searing mark,
product of the dark trolls, Vulcanesque gold.
God took His own delivery; the sky
rumbled as His cellar filled with tinder
and this child, captivated by a lie,
trembled. The Coal Man might note smut, cinder
in grimy heart of smallest sinner-a
companion set no talisman or charm
against His briquettes’ out-poured brouhaha,
or sudden brilliancy which caused alarm.
The Grimy Giant’s voice was the thunderclap
which sent one to the haven of a lap.