Arson by Matt Dhillon

Matt Dhillon is the 3rd place winner of Streetlight‘s 2022 Poetry Contest

Photo of flames in the dark
Photo by Tobias Rademacher on Unsplash

Blistering heat, mother of me.
A little gasoline makes the heart
fire glow, and you can watch
things grow in reverse- twigs
retract, leaves reduce, logs wither,
and then you want to see it undo
plastic bags, bottles, couch cushions,
and soon it’s marching away
from you, this unmaking, sinking
into particle board and rotten
siding, beams and rafters, nests
of mice and wasps and the barn
bent down and the light
leaving it.
Someone struck a match
and there was a light.
Someone struck a match
and there was a hand
tightening around a bottle
until the whole body became
one desperate grip.
Someone struck a match
and there was my mother
behind a heaven of cigarette smoke,
blame, a coiled thing alive
behind her lips.
My mother is a fire,
a spreading violence
will be the making of its own destruction.
Haven’t I watched things eat
themselves in their brightness?
Haven’t I been burned and
haven’t I returned again and again
to the perimeter of your warmth?
I know this: how pain ignites.
How the most important thing
is to cover your face when you
don’t know what’s going to hit you.
That you can only give what you
have and that some people only
have what burns. Anger
wants only to become ash.
If you breathe into it, it will rise hot
and walk through a dry field
bending up the yellow straw,
fists curled, it will open
a bright scream across the wood,
will enter the old house,
draw jagged lines on the walls,
reach bent fingers into the forgotten
of old toys, photographs, furniture.
Because something must be born
from all this dying.
Because there is such pressure
such aching light. Mother of me,
everything escapes as heat.
And heat rises
in the tunnels of my body
to a knot in my lungs, a thin,
flat stream over my teeth.
One by one they catch it.
How could anything you’ve held
in the cradle of your palm
and breathing not come alive?
All around me the fires rise.

Julia Ballerini
Matt Dhillon is the favored poet of the B line metro bus and of looking up from the last page of a subterranean thought. He is the recipient of numerous backward glances from dog walkers who give a brief pause but, thinking better of it, decide to continue on to where they were going.

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