Catching Fire

She maintained only one right way
to clean the flue: fire shoved
up to burn it out, drive sparks
from the chimney stack and smuts
into air. Each bunched and bundled
paper held till the flame took
and it flew, took off on its own
consumption, rose on its own updraft.
I stood fixed by her leather face
dancing in firelight, her hands
clamped to the metal tongs.
Eyes stared black and wide, rims
of blue that circled wells, pools
that fire stared into. I watched
her pull from beneath them black
ash and a paper smell I love still.

She told me she saw faces in the flame
and people, places, things take place.
She’d spey fortunes there; told me
mine. But I saw nothing more or less
than the dance of flame, the leap
and die, the resurrection of yellow
cowl and dual change of split-
levelled flame that held within it
a dance of words, a ballet of images.
I heard only the music of burning
a soundless consummation of persistence
imagined a vision of my hands reddening
felt my knuckles braising
my bones in tongues, flaming.

from At The Waters’ Clearing (Flambard Press/Blackmountain Press, 2001), © Nigel McLoughlin 2001, used by permission of the author

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