Hubs and I spent a year in Rome.  Rome, New York.  It’s upstate, where winters are long and cold and snowy.  Our rental house was four floors: full basement, first story, second story, and full attic, square footage that costs a fortune to heat.  To save money, we decided we’d tough it out and not turn the furnace on until November 1.  Such an idea might pass for reasonable in Ohio, but up there, it means watching TV in long johns and a sweater.  Under a winter coat.  Wearing mittens.  I became passionate about baking, a good reason to turn on the oven and linger in the kitchen.  Precision tasks like knitting or carving a pumpkin had to be done a bit at a time so I could stuff my hands in my pockets or wrap them around a mug of hot tea to restore flexibility.  Somehow, we did it, and the memories flood back every autumn when I turn the furnace on, wrinkling my nose at the dusty-stagnant air rising from the vents.

Last year, the furnace went wonky on us.  It would run one cycle (five minutes), then quit.  It wasn’t the pilot light, so we did the only other thing we know to do:  turn off the power, wait a couple minutes, and turn it back on.  I’m told it resets the circuit board, similar to rebooting
a balky computer.  When that repeatedly failed, we called “THE GUY.”  Between diagnoses and returning to install parts and troubleshoot, he made seven trips.  We were hopeful at the outset, but soon, each new repair was regarded with wariness.  Would it work for a day?  A week?
A month?  Were we going to freeze to death before Mr. HVAC actually got it fixed?  The VILLANELLE, with its endless loop of repeating lines, seemed the perfect vehicle to drive this story home:


My furnace has an intermittent glitch
And inexplicably, the heat goes out
I toggle off and on the power switch

the sole maneuver in my bag of tricks
I call the man and say, without a doubt
My furnace has an intermittent glitch

He reassures me HVAC is his niche
and pencils me onto tomorrow’s route
I toggle once again the power switch

Hot air escapes the vent, a little titch
The motor cycles once, then peters out
My furnace has an intermittent glitch

Qualified to sort out what from which,
the man returns with toolbox, skills, and clout
replaces flame inducer, pressure switch

unblocks a drain, addresses every hitch
It runs like new a month or thereabout,
then crashes from an intermittent glitch
I toggle off and on the power switch

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  1. indysligo October 15, 2017 / 1:16 am

    Love the poem! I’m sure you’ve seen the villanelle posted over on my blog. If not, go check it out. I have a couple more that will show up when I get a round tuit.

    I can relate to the furnace issues! I live in a rental house, and last year our furnace went on the fritz. The repair guy walked me over the phone to diagnose the problem and get it running until they could come out and replace the actual broken part. I had to go to an auto-parts store to buy a package of blade-style fuses. We burned out three of them before we figured out the problem – the thermostat that controlled the AC had failed with a short. When that was disconnected and bypassed, we had reliable heat. We just couldn’t run AC until that part was replaced.

    The reason we did this over the phone was because it was late on a Friday night and the guy was leaving town on vacation early the next morning. There was no way he could come out, and the rental management company was too stingy to call anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan October 15, 2017 / 8:19 am

      Great story, Scott. Seems like as a renter, you shouldn’t have to fix your own stuff. As a homeowner, I’ve gotten handier, but there are some things I don’t touch. I found your Villanelle and left a comment there. So few poets embrace the classic forms anymore, maybe it’s all the rhyming that’s required? 🙂


      • indysligo October 15, 2017 / 11:41 am

        The choice was fixing it or going without a furnace for a week or two. In winter, that’s not a particularly a idea. I just posted another Villanelle over on my blog. I think I have one more somewhere — that is, until I write a new one. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Joyce Robinson October 15, 2017 / 10:20 am

    A good one
    Can relate to those days in Rome
    I lived there for four years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan October 16, 2017 / 11:09 am

      Thanks, Joyce! We lived there for one year, just before the AF base closed. That was enough. 🙂


  3. chevvy8 October 15, 2017 / 10:46 am

    Firstly, thank you for the introduction to the Villanelle. I hadn’t come across it before. You are right I think, about many of us no longer following the classic forms. It’s both an art and a skill to get it right.

    I suppose as in life itself, we can’t always just get things to switch on and off in the hope that we’ll turn up the heat. Just like the Villanelle itself, I’m sure it takes work and skill. So as you did in Rome – New York, you resorted to plan B which though it sounds like it had great moments, these were short lived because of the extreme cold.

    I wish I could say buy a new furnace or move out of the apartment, but that’s easier said than done. The only consolation is that we all have either a broken furnace, leaking tap or blocked drain and like the loop of your poem, these woes come back at us time and time again. Hitching up with the repairman aint the solution either – which one? 😀

    Of course I’m having fun here Joan and hoping you are having a lovely Sunday.😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan October 16, 2017 / 11:29 am

      You’re welcome, Chevvy, for the little tutorial. I like the mix of art and skill in poetry, probably why I do it. I think life, with it’s endless shifts and switchbacks, is a Plan B venture. Hitching up with the repairman? I felt like he more or less lived here! LOL. The furnace was not that old, although frustrating, it was a case where the guy had to fix one thing before it became evident something else was wrong further down the line. Those weeks with sketchy heat made me all the more grateful for the reliable warmth we now enjoy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • chevvy8 October 16, 2017 / 11:54 am

        Yes, I appreciate the art and skill too though I feel I’ve become a little rusty myself. I feel like I need to tap into my soul for that combo of art and skill. But glad to hear that you are warm as Winter approaches for you.😀

        Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan October 16, 2017 / 11:32 am

      You got that right, Marissa. People and appliances follow the same pattern: new, break, fix, break, fix, break, fix, break, obsolete, junkyard. 🙂


    • Just Joan October 16, 2017 / 11:42 am

      Glad to help, Snoozin. Perhaps that’s why our jack-o-lanterns ended up with crooked smiles and three eyes? When we DID finally turn the heat on, we moved our bedroom to the TV nook and blocked all the vents to the upstairs, except to the (one and only) bathroom. One could become ice-glazed within minutes of stepping out of the shower. The arctic toilet seat taught me to “hover.” Upstate’s motto is “Toughen Up or Die,” I think. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. kutchie Kender October 17, 2017 / 10:12 am

    Love the pumpkin and your furnace encounter. Ursula

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan October 17, 2017 / 12:12 pm

      Thanks, Ursula. I wish I could say I carved that pumpkin. Why does the furnace work perfectly when you don’t want to turn it on and repeatedly goof up when you do? 🙂


  5. KetCage October 18, 2017 / 2:15 pm

    Loved the poem though! Must have been annoying to turn off and on the power switch but I hope it was worth the time. Awesome poem and a really good take on the Vilanelle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan October 19, 2017 / 2:27 pm

      Thanks for the visit and comment, KetCage. Cynical Souls? Sounds right up my alley. Glad to report we have reliable heat, at least for now. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. L. T. Garvin, Author October 19, 2017 / 9:47 am

    I’m familiar with THE GUY, Joan, lol! Of course, the one good thing about where I live is that the air conditioner is much more important than the heater, good for me because I hate cold weather. I typically don’t turn on the heat til December and maybe not a lot then depending on our weird weather. We are still enjoying 90 degree temps, I kid you not. I love the villanelle. They are hard to write, I wrote one for one of my infamous English lit classes and got a C….of course, that doesn’t stop me, wink, wink. Great work, and I’m pulling for the heating unit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan October 19, 2017 / 4:04 pm

      Thanks, Lana. The furnace problem happened last winter, everything’s good now. I’m an all-season kind of girl, I couldn’t do without at least a month or two of snow. It’s the repetition of the lines that makes a Villanelle challenging, they have to work in various contexts. I don’t know how teachers can “grade” a poem… on technical merit, maybe, but that can tear at the very Voice we writers try so hard to develop. Disregard the naysayers and keep writing from the heart. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Peter Klopp October 21, 2017 / 1:08 pm

    When the furnace quits, we are being reminded how vulnerable we are when we depend on technology. Last winter our electric furnace quit in our brand new house, when it was 10 below. Fortunately, our house is well insulated and we gor by with a small electric heater. In the old house we could have used our wood stove. Your post is a reminder to learn to make do, when a crisis suddenly stares into our face. Thank you, Joan

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan October 21, 2017 / 2:14 pm

      Excellent point, Peter. In Maine (a place we thought about moving to), folks have alternative ways of heating the house, and many have 3-way refrigerators (electric, generator, and propane). If bad weather is expected, they fill the bathtub with clean water to tide them if the well pump freezes. They check up on and take care of neighbors. They don’t wait for FEMA to come and bail them out when ten feet of snow falls in two days. They are experts at making do. Necessity is, as they say, the mother of invention. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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