I know tongues of fire as tall as men,
autumn sap, red panties,
a stack of sparklers lit, riotous laughter,
a field of poppies, circus acts.
I know mistakes: how fire tastes.
I keep a scarlet dress for when day skirts
the hill with its hem and ladybugs
cover the bedroom ceiling.
Tomatoes split like my bottom lip
and a crab apple tree flowers.
It’s only what hasn’t burned: a struck
match too short to consume more
than itself, a strong wind quieted
like a tantrum, the ends
of my untamed hair.
I arrive doused in night. A paper
crown atop my head. I gesture
to a fuchsia star, to a volcano
whose lava swarms like locusts,
to a castle with candles in every window.
I am pretending to be tended to—
I know breath and am not snuffed out.
Someone bring me a glass of water,
somebody please hold my cloak. In the end
there’s a flame so near I’m afraid to open
my eyes. I’m afraid to close them.
There are ashes licking my tongue
and a scar on my right thigh where I burned
myself as a girl. Feet forward, I tilt back
my head, bowing to what’s behind.
Cover Image: maggienowinski.org.