by Charles Rammelkamp

    The summer cottage was lit like a Dutch painting,
    dim kerosene lamps capped
    by opaque glass shades,
    a crackling fire in a distant hearth,
    light licking brief whips
    against the bare pine walls.
    My father and uncle huddled together,
    shadowy figures talking politics
    as if in some deep conspiracy
    Nixon, LBJ, Vietnam, law and order.
    Insubstantial as memories,
    shadows within shadows within shades.

    It was like the Vermeer painting
    of two women sitting in a kitchen
    whom you spy through a doorway,
    intrusive as a voyeur.
    One holds a lute in her lap;
    both wear bonnets.

    You aren't supposed to be here!
    A little voice, thrilling, whispered, warned.
    This is not for you to hear!
    Not the subject, not the politics,
    but the give-and-take
    between my father and his brother,
    the smoldering violence of their disagreement,
    about to burst into flames,
    like a log collapsing in the fireplace
    with a deafening whoosh!
    shooting up a mouthful of flames,
    lighting up the room
    in brilliant uproar.

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