Confessions of an Accidental Arsonist

from 2011’s  The Salt Book of Younger Poets, edited by Roddy Lumsden and Eloise Stonborough, & with thanks to Ash magazine.

How can I say what made me miss the embers
as I came to you, bun-heavy, fingers derelict with yeast?
Our sheets that night were warm as plague, a pie crust,
and I felt your sleeping ribcage rise like loaves.
Outside, they didn’t know our names, they turned
on spits of fitful sleep, but we were golden.
Slowly, love, we burned.

That night I dreamed I walked along the wharves.
The stars were crumbs, or fish too far away to catch;
the air played Chinese whispers, double-Dutch,
kissed me with salt it rubbed into my elbow crooks
that stung like creaking timber, and a vast
sense of my littleness broke over me. I remember
the stories. Light in the east.

Our daughter reads incendiary books.
The wrinkles kneaded in her face are politics,
the new astrology. Her crossed eyes are a crucifix
and her virginity reminds me I will die.
I stroke her inky head. Her hair invents the match.
The rotten weight drowsing across the rooves
lifts its head like a latch.

Now something is rising in this half-baked city;
the morning light does a roaring trade, sold on
until every street is a red hand holding
another hand, the Thames a boiling butter churn,
the houses dribbling new red humours. Look.
The future kindles cupolas and kilns and bricks.
We jump. Too many cooks

will spoil anything. That much we’ve learnt.
Blow on your fingers, shake off flour and slumber.
Now the news joyrides the wind. Unnumbered
wooden dotages collapse, choking, and the river heaves
a red-hot vomit. They are counting casualties.
My lungs breathe in all the ash of London, and it sticks.
I breathe out, but it sticks to me.

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