The Fire Poems, Part 2

2. The Singularity of Some Things

I’ve stopped reading subtle differences, like which
side of the punch I’m really on,
you know?
knuckles bruise lips, teeth break knuckles
and they’re so closely pressed together that I can’t tell where you
end and I begin and you said,
     “we’re bordering on biblical here and—”
what was the rest? Oh,
     “Less love, more leather jackets
     more eyes like blackout curtains
     more rough bodies in cement stairwells
     more scrapes up our spines like war wounds and leaking flags.
     Pass on the apologies, say no to the tears,
     Write poems across your fists and shove them down people’s throats.
     If we all go around genuflecting all the time,” you said,
     “We’ll run into something eventually.”
And damn, if I could have turned everything you ever said into a poem,
I’d never have run out of things to eat
and I’d still know what to call you.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

The Fire Poems, Part 1

1. Picture of a Burned-Out House

You can still see what it looked like before the fire.
You can still see the outline where it seared the sky.
     That’s the slope of the roof
     Those were the kitchen chairs
     There was where the walls met
     These were the stairs
     Here is where you lived
and I can still see you in it, too:
     This is your burnt outline
          Like a police chalking of a body
          Like your shadow melted to the wall

This was the place before it happened.
I could give a tour of this wreckage.
Look at this mess.
Watch where you step— the nails survived the fire
     spite solidified, tetanus and rust
     proof that there isn’t a god and you were wrong all along.

This was where the firetrucks sat and screamed
and threw up their hands at a job badly done.

This is a photograph of the fire
          and here is another and another and another and
All the photos you had of the house when it was whole
          were in the house and eaten whole.

This is where you kept the photos. This is the fire that ate them.
So take this one instead.
     Remember your house with its hair on fire.
     Remember the paint blistering.
     And all those little things you loved, so much, as only ash against an orange sky.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6


La historia me absolverá
—Fidel Castro

Try again. This time, think of me as a large and badly-shaped beast. My legs are too short to carry me over the kind of distances you demand. If I travel forward, it is on my hands, my claws dismantling dry earth, kicking up dust and grass, my small legs like quotation marks turning the air behind me.

(Pay attention. If you still love me after this then you are more a fool than I ever took you for.)

Your teeth were white against my skin and your fingers tasted like salt and lemons. I slipped words like something bad into your drink. I said, IF I CAN KEEP YOU BY BRINGING DOWN THESE WALLS, THEN I WILL DISMANTLE THIS CASTLE BRICK BY BRICK, MY HANDS RAW AND CEASELESS AND HUNGRY FOR YOURS. I said, THERE IS DAMNATION IN YOUR SMILE AND I AM DOOMED ALREADY.

(I can’t stop this on my own. I’m going to need you to be selfish for me this time.)

But that wasn’t fair. I know this is the kind of role-reversal you can’t stand: Me, the queen of selfishness, asking you to do the hard part, asking you to put up the chairs and turn off the lights on your way out.  Me, talking to you about damnation and ruined buildings. You once told me that I’d ruin everything for a poem. You accused me of hoarding experiences against my belly, guarding words like jealous stones.

(ME OR THE STORIES, you said)

I stood there with hands like dead bodies and dirt under my nails. WHY CAN’T YOU ASK FOR SOMETHING EASY, I said, only I don’t know if I actually said it or if I’ve lived in this fight for so long that I’ve changed the words. LOOK AT THE DIRT UNDER MY NAILS. THIS IS FOR YOU. ISN’T IT ENOUGH? and ISN’T IT ENOUGH?

(ME OR THE STORIES, you said)

I was always going to pick the stories and we both know it. You were never as beautiful as I wrote you out to be. I kept shades of you like old photographs. The ones with hard backs and unforgiving eyes. I think I once told you they were my great-grandparents and they would have loved you but I picked them up at a flea market in Ohio and they probably wouldn’t have. Look at all these stories. I’m getting ahead of myself.

(I made up how you smelled and tasted and I put you in my mouth and made you into a miracle.)

ME OR THE STORIES, you said. It was a Wednesday. It was raining. The mosquitos were a nightmare, but you were too angry to notice and too in love to say goodnight and go inside, so I lifted my hands and my eyes and I kissed you rough and wet against the side of the car. You tasted like pennies and mint and if I didn’t have love trapped between my arms then, I’ve never had it at all.

(I would have kissed you until the sun went out if it would have kept my wicked mouth from talking.)

I don’t remember what I said, but what I meant was DON’T GIVE ME THIS CHANCE. It makes a better story if I say I’m choosing you, even if it’s just the story I’m after. But you didn’t listen, or maybe you couldn’t hear over the rain. Anyway your eyes were flashlights in the dark and your thin moon nails were truth against my skin and then I stopped thinking about anything other than the greed I pretended was there.

(You’ve spent all this time crying about all the things you thought you took from me.)

But you never took anything. You aren’t the bad guy here. I am. I’m a beast with poems pressed against my belly and even though you aren’t a song, I’m going to say that you’re a song. Even though I’ve been standing on my hands, I’m going to say the dirt under my nails is from bringing down these walls for you. Even though your belly was hollow like a drum, I’m going to cry about your selfishness.

(I’m not going to let you go inside. I’ll keep you out here even though the bugs are bad. No one’s going anywhere until I decide how this story ends.)