Cleaning the Coffeepot

Barry Peters

Photo Credit: Cindy Shebley/Flickr (CC-by)

The nuns require weekly chores:
attendance taker, flag raiser, eraser clapper.
The one I fear is coffeepot cleaner.

The solitary confines of the faculty room.
The mysterious aromas of mimeograph and ammonia.
In third grade I know nothing about coffeepots,

their alien tops, thin cylindricals, perforated metal,
scalding water. The wet brown grounds:
Father Shriner might compare them to the muddy

sins of the soul trapped in odoriferous hell-heat
and I—well, I’m doing the good work, the purifying.
But no, Father, this is no metaphor,

no objective correlative. My first Sunday
as an altar boy, he tells me to light the candles.
I look at the matchbook, baffled. It’s foreign,

another coffeepot. I picture my mother
lighting a cigarette, my father lighting the grill.
Smell charcoal and methanol. I know nothing

about striking a match, the confident snap,
the angle that keeps flame alive. I touch it
to the wick—and to my fingers as well. That singe,

that heat, that fire: body and blood,
burning for the first time, the blister already
forming in the cold, candlelit darkness.


Barry Peters lives in Durham and teaches in Raleigh, NC. Publications/forthcoming include The American Journal of Poetry, Best New Poets, I-70 Review, Miramar, The National Poetry Review, Negative Capability, Poetry East, Rattle, South Florida Poetry Journal, The Southampton Review, Third Wednesday. Email: barry.peters79[at]