Catherine Chandler's Poetry Blog

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Love's austere and lonely offices"

Ours was a coal furnace. There being no son until the fifth child, it fell to me, after the metal bins were filled with ash, to help my father haul them out of the cellar and take them to the dump. But before they were ashes, he would get up in the middle of those cold winter nights to shovel coal into the furnace.And when he was recuperating from polio, it was my mother who carried out these "austere and lonely offices".

Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he'd call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house, 

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love's austere and lonely offices? 


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