Oh fire—you burn me! Ed is singing
behind the smoke and coals, his wife near him, the rest of us
below the stars
swimming above Washington State,
burning through themselves. He's like an Appalachian Prince
Henry with his banjo
and whiskey. The court surrounding him and the deer
off in the dark hills like the French, terrified
but in love and hungry.
I'm burning all the time. My pockets full of matches
and lighters, the blue smoke
crawling out like a skinny ghost from between my lips.
My lungs on fire, the wings
of them falling from the open sky. The tops of Michelle's long hands
covered in dark spots. All the cigarettes she would light
and then smash out, her eyes
the color of hairspray, cloudy and sticky
and gone, but beautiful! She carried her hands around
like two terrible letters of introduction. I never understood
who could have opened them, read them aloud,
and still thrown her onto a bed, still walked into the street she was, still
lit what little fuse she had left. Oh fire—
you burn me. My sister and me and Southern Comfort
making us singe and spark, the family
ash all around us, the way she is beautiful in her singular blaze,
my brain lighting up, my tongue
like a monk in wartime, awash in orange silk and flames.
The first time I ever crushed a handful of codeine into its universe
of powdered pink, the last time
I felt the tangy aspirin drip of ecstasy down my throat,
the car losing control, the sound of momentum, this earth is not standing
still, oh falling elevator—
you keep me, oh graveyard—
you have been so patient, ticking away, smoldering—
you grenade. Oh fire,
the first time I ever took a drink I was doused with gasoline,
that little ember perking up inside me, flashing, beginning to glow and climb.
W. W. Norton
Copyright © 2012 by Matthew Dickman
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission