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,
she said, 
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.

Lowell Jaeger