Saturday, January 10, 2009


The old mahogany chest of drawers responds to the lemon oil-soaked scrap of flannel. Stroke by stroke the wood surrenders its grime, restoring the gleam to the grain of the veneer panel on the front of each drawer. The darkened portion of the rag is turned inward to refresh the next area.

heirloom dresser
every scrap from the ragbag
a different story

Inside the drawer the texture changes, its surface is unvarnished; its roughness tugs the cloth. The cabinetmaker's hand cut joints fastened the sides to the drawer. Not the typical dovetails, but peg like, placed far apart, showing uneven cuts. The width and depth vary only slightly, but unmistakably unique to each joining. Pencil marks are still evident on the wood where he had numbered the back of each drawer. A corresponding number in the dresser body, just above the glide for each drawer, tells the order of the drawers from top to bottom. The drawers are out of sequence. How many years has it been this way?

pressed into soft wood
at the back of each drawer
his handwriting

At the swipe of the cleaning rag, a rope of cobwebs rolls off the back of the drawer. Something shakes free from a joint at the back of one drawer and rattles to the bottom: a blue-black wire bent in the shape of a long U, a shape that I haven't seen in decades. It is a hairpin from a time when women carefully wrapped and twisted and pinioned their hair into place on top of their heads. I finger my own short-cropped hair.

Outwardly this chest of drawers has always had a masculine appeal. Even the knobs are blunt and unadorned. During my years growing up, the dresser was relegated to an unused corner of the unheated guest bedroom to hold bed linen, an old feather pillow, and a moth-eaten blanket. But in a former life, instead of crude muslin, it held ribbons and lace. Had the cabinetmaker made this dresser for his bride? There is no way to tell; that legacy is erased. I carefully replace the drawers in the pencil-numbered order of the cabinetmaker.

candle glow—
he untangles the cascade
of her scented hair

by Cherie Hunter Day
San Diego, California
first published in
Stone Frog: American Haibun & Haiga Vol. 2 (2001)

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