The First of February
by Eric Paul Shaffer

      The fire blazed in that cottage, summer, fall, spring, no matter
the wood within nor weather without, but for the first of February.
That day, she watched the fire burn low, beat out the gleaming embers,

and let the hearth cool. She spent the morning scraping soot from stone
      and swept a year of ashes across the floor, over the threshold,
from the steps into the yard. Noon was cold meat and bread, then back

      bent once more, she chipped and scraped till the place was clean,
carried in five fresh-split limbs for the iron frame, and arranged the tinder
      and kindling. The cottage was cold, and she donned a sweater,

then a cloak and stiff leather shoes for the frozen road before she set out
            beneath a silver sky. When evening drew on, she returned
from the village, where in the square, the bonfire had burned since dawn.

      On a bit of tinder, she cupped the spark she had carried home
and brought the flame to life with her breath. Kneeling on stone,
she coaxed fire forth once more. Gray smoke rose, the chill left the air,

walls warmed, and her home glowed with light from the same flame
            kindled anew that day on every village hearth.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “The First of February” is based on the Celtic myth of Brigid, goddess of hearth and fire, whose ceremony is celebrated every year on the first of February. The ceremony includes a ritual dousing of each house’s fire, a thorough cleaning of the hearth, and then from a newly-kindled central community fire, all of the local people carry a flame to their own hearths so that all village fires burn with warmth and light from the same source.

IMAGE: “Brigid of Candelmas” by Judith Shaw. Prints available at etsy.com.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eric Paul Shaffer is author of five books of poetry, including Lāhaina Noon. His poetry appears in North American Review, Slate, and The Sun Magazine; Australia’s Going Down Swinging, Island, and Quadrant; Canada’s Dalhousie Review, Event, and Fiddlehead; Éire’s Poetry Ireland Review and Southword Journal; England’s Stand and Magma; and New Zealand’s Poetry NZ and Takahe. Shaffer received the 2002 Elliot Cades Award for Literature, a 2006 Ka Palapala Po‘okela Book Award for Lāhaina Noon, and the 2009 James M. Vaughan Award for Poetry. Burn & Learn, his first novel, was published in 2009. Shaffer teaches at Honolulu Community College.