I live only a stone's throw from Glacier National Park. I love to hike and explore the out of doors. I've been teaching creative writing at Flathead Valley Community College for 32 years, and I still like my job. I have six books of poems published. My seventh book, Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone, is looking for a publisher.
Dad had to fix something broken down there
every fall, and I’d shudder and twitch,
following his footsteps into the mildewed dank,
thirteen stone steps below daylight.
Where the black coal-fired furnace waited
on its haunches like a blind beast
smothered in cobwebs and dust, its ductwork
tentacles groping toward the floorboards above.
In the yellow flicker of Dad’s lantern,
shadows flit and slithered across cinderblock walls
wet with sweat. While Dad banged on this and banged
on that and pried rusted couplings with curses and grunts,
I’d stand guard like a green recruit, half sturdy soldier
making certain Dad didn’t kick over his light, half
momma’s-boy — too cowardly to unclench his fists
and fetch Dad’s wrench where he’d dropped it.
I’d clamber out of that hole holding my breath
till I could touch sunshine and swallow fresh air.
And felt my shoulders relax when Dad lifted
the heavy storm-cellar doors, fastened the hasp,
and snapped the padlock shut.
I’d sit invisible in the kitchen. Listen to the furnace
whispering beneath us. Listen to my heart
pounding. Listen to Grandma complain
about Dad having ruined her dishrags
scrubbing soot from his forearms and face.
Someone Needs to Keep Track
We’d been tucked into bed, my brothers and I,
and the house had fallen silent accordingly.
I’d hear my mother call out in a half-whisper
from the kitchen table to my father in an adjacent room.
He’d be unfolding his newspaper and settling in his chair.
How much were groceries? Mom said. Twenty something.
Dad said back. How much exactly, Mom insisted.
The springs in dad’s recliner creaked
as he reached for his wallet, and I pictured him
thumbing a thin wad of cash. Twenty-seven, he’d say.
Then a pause in which the hallway clock kept tocking.
And change? she’d ask. Forty-five, he’d say.
No, fifty-five. This was the nightly ritual,
Mom’s accounting — a page a day — in her record book.
She listed every cent ever spent. How cold
was it this morning? she’d ask. Below zero, he’d reply.
Are you sure? she’d push. Damn sure, he’d say.
Nearly froze my nose off. She’d jot that down, too,
the below zero part, but nothing about Dad’s nose.
And nothing much about the rest of us, either.
Except who stayed home from school sick that day,
who needed new Sunday shoes, which of us
got his hair cut, which forgot his coat on the bus.
Not so much as a single syllable she’d pen
to let us know who she was beyond these pages.
We grew up. Mom withered into her grave. Her yearly
statistics lived on, ranked in a dusty row, a forgotten closet,
where we could dig up the facts, if we wanted.
A catalog of seasonal temperature changes,
the rising costs of milk and bread and cheese.
©2016 Lowell Jaeger