by Daniel A. Nicholls
gram and pop have been so long,
it’s hard to imagine that they’ve gone,
no longer rocking in their chairs,
knitting or napping, jawing there.
when mom and dad finally split,
they stowed us with them in week-long visits,
and gram was stone-silent, while pop
came to crackle, roaring with talk.
he’d built the entire place with his hands,
except for the fireplace, which as ever stands
apart and gray and blackened with use,
eternal as anything, and old as truth.
mom seems to come by (despite dad)
to sit near the old stones and brick stack
amid pop’s carefully laid lumber and gram’s
sturdy old afghans, still warm,
and though dad won’t leave the study,
we hie the wood in and stack it deep,
and in the fireplace the little flames go
swimming to life while he seethes alone.
the fire’s four-foot perimeter fills with odor
of warmth and the hissing of heat, though
it fades in quick steps past that—
we glow together, missing only dad.
the wood poppops and pops and sizzles,
while the thin white smoke knits little
strands of something to be finished above
us though started in this room, near this hand-wove rug.
dad’s bourbon glass rattles in his room;
our breath mingles with the wood’s soft groan;
if you listen it speaks a slow invitation:
tend to the home fires; come tend home.