Smoke

Smoke

My father kept a stove
with dog's legs
on a pink hearthstone.

One morning he climbed down the icy stairs
and spread his palms
on the blood-warm metal flanks.

He cranked open the iron doors,
like a black bank safe's,
but found no heat and ash heaped in its place.

He cracked grey whittled coals,
released brief blue flames,
and knocked downy soot through the bars of the grate.

The ash-pan, softly loaded
and almost as wide as a doorway,
he carried like dynamite through the dark house,

his bright face blown with smuts.
At the back door
he slid the ash into a tin dustbin,

then snapped sticks,
crumpled newspaper,
struck a match

and dipped it between the kindling.
Smoke unrolled, flames spread,
the rush of the stove eating air started up

and my father would shake on rocks
from an old coal hod
and swing the doors shut.

But this time
he took a book, broke its spine
and slung that on instead:

his diaries,
year by year,
purred as their pages burned,

their leather boards shifted, popped
and fell apart.
Soon I would arrive,

pulled from under my mother's heart,
and grow to watch my father
break the charred crossbeam of a bird from the flue,

wondering if I too
had hung in darkness and smoke,
looking up at the light let down her throat
whenever my mother sang or spoke.


from The Brink (Picador, 2003), © Jacob Polley 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

Recordings

Jacob Polley Reading from his poems

1Smoke

2The Owls

3The Kingdom of Sediment

4You

5The North-South Divide

6Economics

7Man

8The Weasel

9A Jar of Honey

10Declaration

11Leaf

12October

13Night-doll

14Moving House

15The Crow

16Saturday Matinée

17Rain

18Elder

19Sally Somewhere

20Attic

21The Remedy 22Dandelions

23Salmonary

24Friday

25Decree

26A Crow's Skull 27The Distance

28The Cheapjack

29At Home

30The Prescription

31Snow

32The Byre

33Wild Hyacinths

Books by Jacob Polley