Today’s poem is Winter’s Kitchen by Rosa Lane. She was raised in Pemaquid Beach with ancestral and generational roots steeped in lobster fishing. As poet and architect, Rosa splits her time between her home in South Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area. She is author of Tiller North, winner of the 2017 11th Annual National Indie Excellence Award in the poetry book category. She’s also author of Roots and Reckonings, a poetry chapbook, published in 1980 with a partial grant from the Maine Arts Commission.
She writes that Winter’s Kitchen was “Inspired by the house in which I grew up, I wanted the poem to open into a winter’s kitchen with immediate and sensory experience of a family, its hardship and survival: to smell it, to feel it, and to live it. Originally a boathouse where my father built his lobster boat, our house was a partitioned shell moved onto cinder blocks skirted by fir boughs. With no central heat, our house froze nightly into a cake of ice warmed by morning’s kerosene heat, total focus on the chores of survival. For my mother, survival also included keeping our family extraordinarily clean, a time-consuming challenge without running water.”
by Rosa Lane
The boiler, copper and oval,
straddled two burner plates, and a poke
of flames coiled in a wick
lit a snake that lived
in the old cookstove,
hidden, blue and yellow. The air
of our small Maine house,
soaked with kerosene, sucked down
a tubular throat from an orange jug
of poor-man’s heat. Mornings glazed
with night ice, the cold waist-high,
we skated from our beds across a pond
of green leafage and cracked roses,
where spring lay dormant somewhere
beneath the pumpkin-backed linoleum.
Every day was cleaning day. Back
and forth our mother dipped scalded water from the copper boiler
to the wringer washing machine
sloshing its white belly in a dance of cleanliness. Slabs of clothes fell
into set tubs galvanized on her hip,
clipped to the frozen wind
of the clothesline.
At dusk, she
carried our whole family
into the house, zero-degree wind
at her back. This is how she said
she loved us: bras frozen solid white
cones strapped in her arms, she placed
our small breasts in front of the fire. She cradled my father
in his long johns, board-stiff,
checked him for stains up to the light,
stretched him across the counter. She
melted us limp into folds of cotton. Her love
for us lay in puddles of winter on the floor.
Poem copyright © 2016 Rosa Lane.
Reprinted from Tiller North, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2016
by permission of Rosa Lane.