Kissing, Fire

Our lips are so dry, she says, we could start a fire,
kissing. Once, we were incendiary as match tips,
any flick of skin on skin: a conflagration,
a curtain of flame through which we saw the world.
Something as coy as oxygen fed us,
our bodies the proverbial two sticks rubbed in concert.
And wasn’t it exciting? But fire never holds still,
never latches on to a sole identity.
Like when the dollar-store factory caught fire
and the flames changed complexion
with every new pallet of trinkets
they pressed their tongues to,
chameleons gauging mood by mouth.

Scoff, if you will, at the stupidity of moths,
flying doggedly into the heat of their own deaths,
but when that fire flowered beside the railroad tracks
like an awful poppy, we spilled from the doors
of homes and cars and the 78 bus,
as phototaxic as any bug that ever kissed the blue light.

Suppose the campfire’s flicker gestured
like the hands of an Arabian dancer,
liquid and hypnotic, training the eye
to its breathtaking center.
Suppose the conflagration,
caressed by its necklace of stones,
dissolves the sound of those other children,
the grandfather, the whip-poor-will
at the lip of Toothaker’s farm,
the wind in the pines
and the pines themselves.
Why, then, should it surprise
when the boy, seated atop the picnic table,
tumbles forward, head over heels in a daze,
into the fire’s warm embrace?

I am the first to put out the light,
press my face to the pillow,
nesting there like a dog in its pile of rags.
I feel a familiar body, then, lean across
from the opposite side of the bed,
familiar words fall upon my ear,
familiar lips touch lightly to my cheek.
I tell you this, young lovers:
the fire is a liar, a ravishing fiction
that diverts notice from the unassuming ember,
which knows a thing or two about how to linger.

Yvonne Zipter is the author of two full-length collections of poetry: As If the Night Could Heal Itself and The Patience of Metal. Her 2006 chapbook, Like Some Bookie God was nominated for a Dog Writer’s Association of America award. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Spoon River Poetry Review, Calyx, Crab Orchard Review and Bellingham Review, among many other publications. She is a recipient of the Sprague-Todes Literary Award and an Illinois Arts Council Finalist Award for nonfiction.