Lighting the Fire by Terri Kirby Erickson

Lighting the Fire

for Stephen White

While my great-grandmother lay in her warm bed,
a heavy quilt pulled up to her chin, her grandson
would creep quietly into the room—his arms filled
with old newspapers and kindling—and start the fire.
With a broken hip and age pressing down hard upon
her work-worn frame, Granny spent the last years
of her long life being waited on by others, a brass
bell placed within reach on a bedside table so she
could ring for help. But she never moved at all until
Stephen’s towhead bent close to the grate, his lips
pursed as he blew the tiny flame into a crackling
inferno that scarcely took the icy edge off the ever-
present chill. More and more as the years went by,
mid-winter seemed like a brutal assault on Granny’s
brittle bones—rattling and blowing and carrying on
while she lamented to anyone within earshot, Law
have mercy
, to no avail. But it was surely a mercy
in the early mornings, not long after light began to
splash across those wooden floorboards like weak
tea, to see that mischievous boy settle down long
enough to light a fire, reminding her of times when
her limbs still moved like well-oiled levers, her lithe
body way too quick for Old Man Winter to catch her.

by Terri Kirby Erickson

Editor’s Note: This narrative poem highlights the small moments of family life—old age and infirmity vs. youth and strength—to create a picture of love that seems obvious, but isn’t always.


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