Brimstone Lullaby. Our House Burns Down.


The Fire Before Sight

My drawings blindly follow the will of brush and pen.
I begin with a loop and allow the loop to sag or spin
or double-up on itself, and it turns into a face, a chair,
a railroad cutting through a tunnel or a town, a ladder
leading to an attic. Today my pen outlined a plume
of black smoke which breathed heavy out the windows
of a two story building which fell as a dying bird would,
tumbling through blank space, softly buoyed by an upward wind.

My sister arrives at the party wearing a sequin dress
wrapped tight around her breasts like the skin
of a black adder. She pulls me into the corner.
I have bad news. Mom’s house burned down.

I picture mother clutching the neighbor’s sleeve,
either sobbing wild or roughly silent, whimpering
as the second floor is swallowed red. She is miles
away from her husband, her daughters.

I see my books burning. The colored smoke
that curls a chemical blue from my photos,
my film, my paintings, my blockprints. Each line
of my two dozen journals, hand-bound, illustrated,
licked black and blown into the crisp constellations
of this February Friday evening. Memories of Italy,
of bygone lovers and dogs and homes, of broken limbs
and flourless chocolate tortes. The pages pumped
into the raspberry bushes behind my mother’s house
by the white fist of the fireman’s hose, the fragile
carbon flakes settling on the pond where the peepers
rattle and croak their confusion through the night.

The Fire After Sight

We stop counting objects claimed by the fire–
oil paintings, jewelry, our entire library–
and begin compiling the objects salvaged
by the forty three night firemen:
An envelope of baby teeth, a tin of pecans,
a sketchbook from my trip to Italy.

My sister dusts a powdered wall
from her guitar. It strums hollow smoke.
For hours, we peel photographs
from warped, sodden albums.
Our numb fingers quake with winter chill
as we arrange the photos on dry boards.

Our family mannequin, Monique,
guards the top of the eroded stair, her singed head
a monument in a plane of ash. On the kitchen counter,
evidence of Mom’s breakfast before the fire:
half a banana, now a black fossil. Dishes in the sink
she will never have to wash, tinted sepia.
A pork shoulder roasted from inside the fridge cavity.

Light streams in through a sagging hole in the roof
down to where I stand on wet basement coals.
Shreds of insulation hang jagged from the ceiling,
dripping in the path of the fireman’s hose. Icycles
dangle like teeth from the charred attic rafters.

Back at the hotel, we warm our feet in the tub
and eat Red Cross cheese and oats. I decorate
the carpet with pages ripped from wet journals.
Drying photographs stare up from the floor:
bald grandpa Larry, my sister as a naked cherub,
my father diving from a rock cliff into a cold, blue pond.

2 thoughts on “Brimstone Lullaby. Our House Burns Down.

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