April 2, 2011

Glenn McKee

STORY TIME AT GRANDPA’S

He talked on long after
I’d been shooed up to bed
on calamine-lotioned legs,
his voice finding a hole
through the hot air register
over the parlor stove
and, ferret-like, digging
for my ears, the end
of his story what I wanted
him to get to before
my eyes gave up to the dark,
my mind wanting to know
more about underground fires
started by striking miners
who’d set fire to a car of coal,
turned it loose on the tipple
to roll back into the earth
where it had come from,
how the timbers, then the
coal veins had been ignited,
and like a coal stove
with proper draft, burned on
underground, parching land
around New Straitsville, Ohio,
swallowing up trees, buildings,
when its firebox collapsed,
how years back it had come
so close to the schoolhouse
where my mother taught that
she feared for her students, how
even Franklin Delano Roosevelt
and his entire New Deal,
including the WPA
couldn’t put out the mine fire,
how it burned on the way
my legs did against
Grandmother’s muslin sheets,
poison ivy spreading where
my fingernails had burst blisters,
the poison ivy’s flames as good
at keeping me awake
as Grandpa’s downstairs voice
burning into my memory.

from Rattle #9, Summer 1998