Elegy in Search of a Speaker
I would like to explain how the house on fire
is different than the house she set on fire.
It’s cavernous. My mind can’t find the edges,
the walls. Soot and ash, but nothing solid.
I obsess over the details of a doorknob:
the tarnish of hundred year old brass, wreaths
of engraved flowers burning into her palm
when she pops it off, puts it in her pocket.
It’s heavy, too heavy, for the worn fabric
of her dress, but it keeps me from thinking
of the knife, of how she slit her son’s throat.
I want you to understand that I’m a different mother
than I was before I knew something like this
could happen. I weigh every word,
every action, wonder what could push
a mother, his mother. How the same woman
who tucked a lunch into his backpack each day,
who said don’t forget your coat, could cut
clear to bone, before dousing his six year old body
in lighter fluid and lighting a match. I’m afraid
to go inside her skin. There are things
I don’t want to understand.
I have given you the right information,
in the wrong order. The boy, the boy is alive.
He has his back to the wall. The alarm has been disabled,
but doesn’t anyone smell smoke?
I would like to end this nightmare with the mother
checking for monsters under the bed. With the woman
who chose natural childbirth even after her baby
died inside her. Holy Mary, holding her dead son, his skin
disappearing in the folds of her gown. Do you remember
the woman who became a human shield during the earthquake,
the baby found crying under the architecture of her body?
The boy. His back to the wall.
I climb the ladder to my son’s bunk bed, pull him
into my arms, praying his skin, his skin, his skin,
let me always remember where I end and he begins.
Danielle Jones-Pruett is assistant director of the Writers House at Merrimack College. Her poems have appeared in Best New Poets, Memorious, Southern Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a 2014 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, and a 2015 St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award.