A few days after my mother died
the furnace went out, and my father,
who had been sitting in his chair
across from hers since the funeral,
his unshaven chin on his chest,
heaved himself up and went down
the cold gray cellar stairs to see if
he could relight the pilot himself
or would have to call for help.
I know what it must have been like
because I remember him other times
on his back down there, cursing
match after match, god damning
each for burning his fingers, as he
reached through the tiny metal door
as many times as it took. This time
it lit, caught, and roared back to life.
When my father sat up he faced
the washer, the dryer, the empty
laundry basket, the ironing board,
and my mother’s radio above the sink,
her absence so vivid that climbing
the stairs he thought he heard her
behind him, and he turned around.
Richard Hoffman, “An Old Story” from Emblem. Copyright © 2011 by Richard Hoffman. Reprinted by permission of Barrow Street Press.
(Barrow Street Press, 2011)