Fire-Maker Merit Badge
Drawings in the Scout Handbook —
boys kneeling in the wilderness,
nursing tinder to flame.
Thought any kid given flint
could clack a spark.
I clacked splintered mountainsides
of stones into blisters and bloodied knuckles,
till I gave up that caveman crap
for the old fashion strike-anywhere matches
Grandma kept to light her stove.
Grandma split kindling with a hickory-handled ax.
Whacked the heads off chickens she’d wrestled
onto a tree stump. She’d bristle
like an angry cat if the chicken fought back.
By gum, she’d say, I’m gonna give you a haircut.
Also pages of penciled-perfect boys
lashing saplings to build a raft.
Excavating a wilderness pit-toilet.
Snaring rabbits and netting fish.
Smiling, smiling. Working together.
Outlasting each pretend crisis.
His mother lit stick matches with her thumbnail and smoked
a pipe, for which my father felt ashamed.
He knew never to utter something mean to Grandma’s face.
Mom shook her head: The man survives Patton’s march,
Now he’s troubled his mother don’t look
like he figures she ought?
Too good to be true, Grandma said,
when I showed her the diagrams to wire
a quartz crystal radio.
Ain’t no magic rocks, she said.
Stared and stared — as if she’d seen a spaceman —
at the page depicting a Scout
carrying shopping bags for an old lady,
escorting her corner to corner
across a busy street.