Hortense Flexner's

The Fire-Watchers

Published: The Masses, July, 1913.
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2000.

Woman, who the dim centuries ago,
Guarded the fire,
Fed it with twig and branch,
While the strong male with weapon crude,
Ranged the deep woods,
In search of meat and berries and wild fruit;
Woman, who sheltering, hovering near the flame,
Watched its curved leapings, waiting, lonely, still, With fear and dark foreboding and fierce love;
O, woman, silent watcher of the day,
Inactive, yearning, listening,
Stretching cold hands above the yellow flame
That must not die;
We send to you across the million years,
The kinship call,
Our greeting of despair!
Do we not know as by the hearth we wait,
Watching the falling ash, the glowing heart
Of coal or log,
What were your thoughts, your agonies, your prayers?
Do we not tremble with the fear you felt,
And strain to catch the footstep on the flag,
The opening door, As you the snapping of the underbrush, The tearing of the cave mouth's matted vine?
Are not our hands, stretched to the blaze, your own?
And do our savage hearts not cry,
Out of the wilderness of stone and steel;
"Why always ours to wait, to feed the fire,
"While he, with leap, with joy of strength and life, "Follows the prey, spends of his fearless youth "Beneath the open skies!" Mother of ages, brooding in the dusk, Forging the chain of empty hours and years,
O why, for us,
The weary after-keepers of the hearth,
Did you not heed the call of wind and toil,
Tread the red embers cold and take your way,
Alone and free,
That all the misery of the faggot load,
The guarding of the flame by those who wait,
Had never been?