The spark struck in secret under the stairs, in dust
in the cellar, smolders the way a face does, and the life
inside it, after a slap. A humiliation, stains
on the floor of a caged thing’s cage. In dust
in the cellar where out bicycles lean
broken-antlered in the dark. Among molds
in the cellar where the cat, swollen with poison
curls in the damp to extinguish herself. It’s dark outside;
inside the dark becomes particles a little like rain
stilled. Behind chicken-wired glass the garden
shakes a few dead leaves down. Most of winter’s work is done,
the pond lidded, the ruts of the bicycles wheels
cast in iron. The fire begins by itself, a breathing-life-into,
a kindling: cells of our skin, soil from the garden;
tinder for the fire’s insistence. The fire has been impatient
to begin all along. The house its accomplice.
Roots of the black walnut hold tight the foundations,
hence nothing grows here, nothing flourishes.
But flames brush the root hairs, make them stand in end.
Like a story’s ending, not quite to wake us is the fire’s
intention. To stroke us with its smoke, our sleeping faces.
“Housefire” is from Swallow (Mariner Books, 2002).