My Father’s Child Watches a Room Burn

I think I should never have been allowed
to be more than a child. I am nine
when my mother grips the wrist of
my father’s young lover in her own
frail hand and they both scream.
My father is watching through fists.
I am upstairs, backed into a closet,
holding a matchstick between my eyes.
I touch fire to tip to article after article
of clothing, and the closet lights up
with all the orange and glow of the sun.
My fingers follow the burn.
Maybe fire does not scream but it drowns
out my mother and the young lover of
whom she cannot let go. She examines
her body like mine when I am sick,
pushes a hand to her forehead to
feel for heat, opens her throat like a sink.
I should never have been allowed to be
more than a child, my father’s child.
I crave a mother who mirrors me.
I wonder if I will ever scream like this.
I am nine and my father and his young lover
leave without ever noticing orange and glow
from a young girl’s bedroom window.
My mother retreats upstairs to pour
water in my sanctuary. She sits
on her knees that night in a
young daughter’s blackened closet and
scoops ash and scraps of fabric from
the floor with her frail hands and never
does tell me no.
Remember that we are still animals,
she warns, Remember there are
so many ways to burn.

Claire Grace