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 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.