poetry

Nuance of Damage: Who Started the Fires? {poetry}

These thoughts are the product of a single man’s reflections. Not a word herein can be verified. Much of what I say is not true. The events have never happened.

I did once hold a position in an inner-city school, but I would be the first one to agree that what appears in this poem doesn’t come close to capturing the complexity of experiences that I had over the course of some 12 long years. These are fragments, shards as it were, scraps of information, barely worthy of being called narratives. This is in the realm of speculative daring, an apocalyptic vision.

I have chosen to share only a few of them, a tiny fraction of the whole. I have not been truthful, as I cannot tell the whole story.

I.

Hope is faster than light,
its speed beyond measure.
It’s alive today, but what about
tomorrow? Easy come, easy…
I need something to build up
my courage.

One advantage is sleep, an endurance test:
a locomotive or a pillow. We learn to calculate
the commotion. Suck the straw, hang out, hit the hay.
Who’s to say? One cedes territory, one
establishes boundaries, one signs along
the dotted line. Some choose southern exposure.

Gross indecencies stare us down. Our calm is our
rebellion. It’s the last frontier. Benumbed, confounded,
lost in space. We escape confinement like water, searching,
but what of our aversion to chaos? Our taste for the
tranquil? Must we be held in contempt for despising
aggression, our preference for the impassive?

It’s massive: jest. Or condescension. We cultivate superiority;
we celebrate death: theirs, hers, his. Inoculation. Innocence.
Quest. It’s a matter of combining ingredients, the right balance,
justice. Too much won’t do. There’s much too much parsley.
One less grain of sand. The handyman’s muscles are too big.
The phone keeps ringing. Where’s the drain?

There’s anguish in repetition. I prefer hilarity. The monks won’t go.
Offer them a martini. Thelonious learned to tread lightly
as one should. Deer in the headlights, grizzly bear, a flamingo: there.
Notoriety ruins everything. Ask the Princess. I like to stay in bed.
Back to basics. Sunny side up. He refuses to remove his boxing gloves;
he grunts and the world stands still. Rebellion begins with rest.

II.

Who started the fires? Many are drawn to the flames — men and women
in equal number. They clamber to get closer. They take off work to travel:
the flames climbing higher, engulfing, filling the skies. The smoke gets in
everything; there are ashes in the houses, on the carpets. Many stand still
and hold out their tongues. They tear off their clothing. They crave the heat.
They’re excited by the smell of ruin. They’re delirious.

The fires mean trouble. The people can’t tell the difference
between fireworks and flames. They welcome the fires with tribal dances.
The women bare their breasts. It excites the men. The logs in the fireplace
have rolled into the living room but the people are too drunk to push them back.
They’re laughing. They’re excited that something’s finally happening.
They’re so bored the thought of burning the house down makes them giddy.

The gals want their backsides smacked. The men get close
enough to the flames to singe their body hair. The women shriek.
The parents no longer watch the children. Many die running into the flames.
The parents shrug. What’s the difference? The children carry fiery
logs about and throw them into the cars. They take hot sticks and poke
out each other’s eyes.

The parents don’t know what to do, but declare with a sense of urgency
there is nothing to be done. It’s all beyond them; it’s fate.
They move closer to the fires. They’ve burned all their clothes.
They have nothing on. They push the children away and commence
to fornicate in the ashes. The men relieve themselves on the hot coals.
Many children catch fire.

They move back to the caves when the fires burn down. They remove
the paintings from their frames to use the wood as kindling.
The museums are ransacked. Libraries are emptied. They desperately
raid the theaters for wood from the stage floors. In short order,
there’s nothing left. The fires die out. The men and women crouch
in their earthen holes and cry.

Some brave women venture out but quickly regret it.
Most hide themselves deep within. Much, if not all, is lost.
The fires burn out. When there was fire and music,
nudity seemed sexy, but now the women are cold.
They feel ugly like insects. The men don’t caress them;
they kick them. The sexes are not equal.

III.

My guardian won’t let me out to play.
She told me to amuse myself in my room.
She doesn’t want me to get wet.
She’s afraid the neighbor’s dog might bite.
I have some games I can play all by myself.
My guardian is always worried.

It’s been raining now for several days.
The traffic’s slowed to almost a standstill.
The newscaster warns people to stay indoors.
The house is insured against flooding.
A boy drowned in the local river last year.
I was told to get up on the roof in an emergency.

It’s been seven years since they outlawed music.
My guardian told me to stop humming.
Girls are advised to always dress in layers.
The marauders use giant nets and even carry bug spray.
The men look for frightened girls like me.
I was captured and sold to my guardian six years ago.

I always wear leotards and my bathing suit at the same time.
My guardian scarred my face so I wouldn’t look pretty.
You can hear the firing squads in the distance.
Girls must avoid detection at all costs.
I can pass for a boy from a distance.
My guardian trained me to fight with a sharp blade.

We’ve been living like this for as long as I can remember.
The police dress entirely in black now and cover their faces.
If pregnant, they line you up and shoot you.
There’s an escape route my guardian talks about through Alaska.
They threw my boyfriend off the bridge and into the water.
The toxic spray they use is so strong it induces labor.

I remember hearing my mother sing.
My guardian says I could pass for a boy.
They say we have a 20% chance of survival.

IV.

Shelter in place: this is the advice one needs.
After a life of turmoil and defeat,
it’s best to stay indoors. Hide. Place your head
between your knees. They’ve been telling
us this for years, but I never listened.
I was too busy trying to take over.

Genghis Khan with a phone I was called; now,
all I wish is to get along. I just want to be free.
Don’t involve me. I’d just as well not come, thanks.
I’m content to stay, lie back, kick it. Let the world go by,
along with the riffraff. My God, what a sight. My mother
was right not to let me play with the neighbors.

What happened to the innocence? We were kind, don’t let them
tell you otherwise. These are lies. We were true blue. And
sweet, I kid you not. We were John Wayne’s children. We were
Frankenstein’s playmates. We made cakes with our mothers.
We even ate mommy’s lipstick. We sipped grandma’s elderberry
wine, but I’ll tell you this, we never took the Lord’s name in vain.

We hated our gym teacher, but we never called him a motherfucker.
It never crossed our minds. I can remember the first day that word
was introduced to the American people, the very first day it was
used in public. We said golly, gosh or darn, not shit. We said we were
sorry and bent over to bare our bottoms. We took our punishment
like a man. We didn’t sue. We didn’t curse. We never pursed our lips.

Now we have to hide. The news reporter announced that all the world’s
troubles could be traced back to us, yes, that means, you and me. The
social justice warriors, once known as scavengers and marauders, are
on the hunt; they’ve been trained in name-calling, finger-pointing, and
manufacturing nerve gas. Our well-wishers have fled the country.
They’re living in Canada with the Eskimo. They kill seal and eat caribou.

We’ll have to keep the lights out. Our teacher has piled the chairs against
the door. She’s asked the gunman if he would please let us live. He said,
“Shut the fuck up.” He’s a nervous wreck. His eyes are glazed over and he
foams at the mouth. He called our dear teacher a stupid cunt. “Open up!”
He’s determined to kill us all. He wants to make the world a better place.
He’s fighting for justice. “We are the world now,” he says, “not you.”

***

David Lohrey‘s plays have been produced in Switzerland, Croatia, and Lithuania. In the US, his poems can be found at The RavensPerch, New Orleans Review, Nice Cage, and The Drunken Llama. Internationally, his work appears in journals in the UK, Australia, India, Malawi, and Hungary. His fiction can be seen at Dodging the Rain, Terror House Magazine, and Literally Stories. David’s collection of poetry, Machiavelli’s Backyard, was published by Sudden Denouement Publishers. He lives in Tokyo.

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