Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Burned House

Cosmos 'Sonata White'

The Burned House

When I wasn’t looking, the house burned down,
that tall one on the cliff’s edge that sucked in smoke
and died. It was full of mirrored rooms, that house
I used to own, each one a tank where dreamfish swam in fire,
where light flickered up on scales of copper-gold, now white
lumps of half-burned bone, refleshed with sudden coats of ash.

How were those rooms so full of light transformed to ash?
to flecks scraped from scorched love letters skittering down
the drive, black ink on blue paper burned feathery white?
Our words undressed became a script of smoke,
banded envelopes a fuel for chemical fire
that when my head was turned burned down the house.

Blackened beams, obscene leg-stumps of house       
frame possibilities negated. Nothing made of ash
can be reused. I sift the morsels left uneaten by the fire
that swallowed up the core, the spit-out shingles flying down
in flaps of flame, exhaling heat while carcinogenic smoke      
escaped from window-mouths on wings of restless white.

When it happened I was working soil for the Sonata Whites
but purity failed; so fire’s finger drew a circle round the house:
C. sulphureus instead, petals solar bright, tangerine smoke
drifting against the threshold wild alive, drawing flame from ash,
from rich dead dreamfish char piled in drifts of down;
now where white rebelled I fill my hand with redgold fire.

So I come to the doorway drawn by memory's fire       
to rake through dulled nails and teeth of white
half-melted days, look for the last inhabitants down
beneath the rotten timbers. The ghost-house
trembles, gives up its bones and sleeps in ash.
I pick and fuss at ruins, only to fill my bag with smoke:

photographs once rainbow stained to sepia, smoke-
colored faces turned to relics, eyeholes eaten black by fire
unreal as fingerbones of non-existent saints, grey as ash
and as unlikely to reignite; silver-colored trinkets faded white,
misshapen in the reflux of the firehose, lockets that housed
twists of burn-clipped hair lost in love's long down.

My insurance covers none of this disaster-whitened ash,
a total loss except for cosmos smoke, gold-warm as any fire,
embers at the doorway of the wild that can’t burn down.

C. sulphureus

~originally written September 2011, 
ruthlessly revised

 for Brendan's Doors

 Forgive the repost, but my time is not my own these days...

Cosmos is a perennial or half-hardy annual in the aster family, native to Mexico, Arizona, Florida and the southern U.S. down into Central and South America. It grows in both wild and cultivated form. It is heat and drought tolerant and reseeds itself so freely some forms, including C. sulphureus, are considered a weed in some places. Cosmos bipinnatus 'Sonata White" is a pure white hybrid form, bred for the cut flower trade.

Photo: Cosmos bipinnatus "Sonata White" by Julie Anne Workman, Forde Abbey, Somerset, UK
courtesy wikipedia Par Julie Anne Workman (Travail personnel) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Cosmos sulphureus 'Bright Lights' author unknow via internet. Fair use


  1. Life is easily burnt down, lived in the ashes, we are told the fire is good for the earth. I for one do not believe that-the residue may help the soil but the residue can not be lived in nor rebuilt. Burn my past, my memories, my soul right to the doorstep. I will not perish or moan. I will only curse the insurance and move.

  2. This is incredible writing. I knew from that opening stanza that this would be a feast, albeit a bleak and honest one. The dream fish, the saints who cannot be reignited, the survival of something primal despite all, it all describes loss and the scorching of a heart in amazing language.

  3. What is bricolage of fire and loss and house and ash? This door, reopened. There's such marvelous compression of witch ritual and dream and heartgleam, all wryly observing something great that burned down and is now great ruins. A total loss, yes, by the world's account (or agents), but what of those "embers at the doorway of the wild"? And what indeed is complete or seen deeper and more wildly through such harrowed doors? Thanks for slamming the screen door on the challenge, Hedge. Your aim is true.

  4. Thanks everyone--I won't be around for a few days, but will try to catch back up when things calm down. Hospitals and doctors are eating up my hours.

  5. what a pen. I sit, waiting on layover from Philly in Houston, where the land outside bubbles up black but where inside all is pristine. Life in a dome.

    the ash will come.

    a searing vision, Hedge.

    good luck with those hospitals and drip lines. ~

    1. Thanks M--rather grim right now, but as we both know, everything changes--black bubbles to white smoke to something pristine and back travels.

  6. I've read this about five times, smelling the aches, watching the ruins, looking for ways to start rebuilding--I can never help trying to see something bright in bleakness--but the more I look, the bigger the devastation gets... I found myself sitting on the ashes, drawing small shapes on the floor, wondering what can't be built out of the bones of loss.

    1. Well, at least the new fire of flowers is warmer and more full of life than the one which ashed everything out. Thanks so much dear Magaly, and I hope you are with your Piano Man and Princess somewhere bright and beautiful and where you want to be for the holiday.

  7. In the wake of the burn, new life forms. There will always be remnants of what was once there if one looks close - sometimes caught in the roots, around the base of what grows there now. And feeling, feeling never really leaves those places.

    Sorry I missed this earlier in the week Joy.

    Hope Thanksgiving allows you to breathe.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

Comment Moderation Has Been Enabled