she said, Let’s go outside.
The hen house was warm enough.
Their water was water, not ice.
She gathered eight eggs in her hands,
steadied them against her breast.
To spare the kitchen floor her boots,
she perched the pretty eggs upon his pants
crumpled on the mudroom bench.
She stepped again into the chill,
scanned the yard. He called.
Crunching through the driveway snow
she saw him at the mouth of the garage
behind the guest house—red, the one
he built from an ancient shed
and named, to her delight, The Cottage.
He smelled of smoke.
He smiled and spoke of plans for walls.
Do you smell smoke? he asked.
She laughed, Why hide it?
and mostly meant it. He laughed too.
I’m going to check the chicks,
she said, and stepped into his footprints
to the cottage where a heat lamp
was their winter sun for weeks.
Snow filled the doorway.
She kicked it free, pushed in.
The house exhaled a cloud.
The black tub smoked and glowed.
She didn’t want to look, but did.
The rush of air had set a fire free.
Pressed against the tub’s black wall,
five chicks were hunched together
inches from the little fire rising
from a blackened disc of pine chips
reaching up to crack the sagging lamp.
She pulled the lamp, dropped the tub
upon a drift and quickly snuffed the fire.
Chicks pecked at their tiny mound of snow.
The house stood red. The man looked on.
I thought I smelled smoke, he said.
Neither let the other take the blame.
What could have been was not.
The weightless joy of unearned luck
followed them like hungry chicks,
like fire’s love of oxygen, all day to bed.