Point of Flame
I shall covet no higher human reward for any attainment I may
make in literature or science, than the satisfaction of having
stood in the lot of the laboring man
– Elihu Burritt, letter to Longfellow, Dec 1, 1840
Raking dead-fall leaves and pine needles,
hauling them to the safe circle cleared for burning,
I think of you, Elihu, hand-laborer by choice.
I strike the match, my slash-pile flares,
though not as hot as your forge Small branches
transform to energy, manzanita trimmings
speak in tongues of flame Smoke lifts on the blaze’s
own convection that makes the nearest oak-
boughs sway Die Hand mit Feuers Hilfe baut –
Schiller knew how human hand and fire join
to form metal into song His bronze bell rings rhyme
from a book I puzzled over, years ago
You knew, the hand that casts a bell
or shapes a shovel-head, or wields a hoe,
sets a body-rhythm for mind to turn to poem
or recall a long-forgotten line This learning
roots itself deeper than ivy into college walls
I lean on my rake, admire the flame
Guys Porridge Pot, Warwick Castle
Surely no man could be less than eight feet and a half high
who needed such a kettle for cooking for himself and family – Elihu Burritt, Walks in the Black Country
See how that old woman thumps the sides
of the great pot as if to conjure up a stew – enough
to feed her husband and six children, plus the parson,
the postman, the entire town for a week
Here it sits in Warwick Castle’s Great Hall
as it has sat for centuries, brooding a misty haze
of myth in its depths Only a legendary
giant could match his hunger to this pot.
Oh yes, they claim this cauldron fed
the soldiers of the garrison – so many mouths
to keep a castle safe – and not a bite left over
for peasants beyond the castle walls.
Did no one starve in that mythic time?
Might a poor man hoist himself by his own
bootstraps, 8 ½ feet up a porridge pot?
After he paid his taxes, could he afford boots?