A poem based on a story my grandfather told me about his country child.
Cracking the door easy,
I broached the kitchen’s bottled atmosphere.
My face was stiff and achy with the dry cold of the dead of winter
stealing into our simple country house my daddy built himself.
Introduced into the narrow gap to check whether the room was occupied,
my numb chapped features were treated to a creeping puff of vaporous toastiness,
and I anticipated claiming this the house’s far warmest room.
Flexing out my face abuzz with thawing,
I took a start upon discovering a stark white back
whose commanding breadth I well knew
erected above the low oval rim of the shallow tight tin tub.
My daddy’s six feet had him cramped pathetically in the puny vessel
with his knees cocked up and locked together.
How impressed I was at the raised muscling of that broad back of his.
Its many knitted ridges worked as he surfaced his calloused hands,
softened somewhat from soaking in the warm well water
boiled kettleful by kettleful on the cast iron wood stove
beside which the tub was set,
and brought those sinewy resting instruments
to his hidden, bent, browned face filmed with a farming week’s buildup.
Knowing he would issue a sharp word at being disturbed in this private, vulnerable state,
I drew the kitchen door to even more softly than I had tested it inward.
Though I had known he worked harder than any other proud landowner in the county,
the almost bestial display of his exposed back
had aroused in me a profounder appreciation for the unchallenged rigor of his manual labor.
I vowed to try harder at my chores and volunteer for extras,
knowing my scrawny, part-time contribution could never,
no matter how dedicated,
match that serious built man’s who mastered
acres upon acres and all their host,
culling record yields year in and year out
while I concentrated on making crude airplanes out of his carpentry scraps
and piloted them barefoot with a commitment to realistic sound effects.