A Legacy of Torch Song


Searching for shelter   from the hesitant rain
& crowds   of frat boys with windblown
shirts & cigarettes blazing,
we stumble into a courtyard   of stained glass

windows of a city   burning
& I tell you   that my family was accused
by name     of possessing
++++the lantern that ate its way through Chicago,

devouring   a green swell of parks & burbling sidewalks,
licking children’s foreheads   as they slept.

Fire’s flicker by ancient   instinct has always seemed
a morsel    of some good thing, some yellow    promise
like a notebook   patterned in sunflowers,

but I understand the easy
balloon & crumple of a home,
frenzied sadness unraveling   in flames.

Conflagration of veins   slumbering fuchsia
++++& the burning is every burning that ever was.

The legend   of a some-great aunt’s negligent arson
is of questionable fact   but has left me   on paint-streaked desperate
streets with a head   full of coarse ghosts cleaving the sunlight.

++++That I inherited the shattered lantern
that gutted   a city’s chest, that pillar of flames baying,
feels an honesty.   Emotionally true, like a long-buried   melody
shirking from reach—   some adolescent flood of stars

in a sweaty truck cab, or faint shimmer
across a memory   of an autumn porch, thunder
++++the color of marrow, tender   gift of a hand
placed   in the small of your back—a song

you can’t quite find    by humming, but you can taste
++++the blurry edge of bittersweet fig & longing, can nearly
smell cinnamon   charred into the skin of passersby.

Erin Slaughter