front of me in line, a man hisses at a woman. I can't distinguish
all of the words, but the words don't matter; his voice crackles
and stings. He talks to her the way fire talks to wood.
stands perfectly still, unflinching. She makes no eye contact, but
I see her head sink lower between her shoulders. I feel her heart
constrict. I picture Queen Anne's lace in November, a singed claw
still defiant at the edge of the road. A frail fist clenched in
the hard place between sun and frost. Silence. Her hand flutters
to her throat. Her eyes are red-rimmed coals. This is the way wood
he turns and catches me staring, he shrugs, offering me a closed-mouth
smile and a wink. He dramatically wraps both arms around her neck,
pulls her close. Repelled, I'm still relieved by his abrupt playfulness.
Then I realize that he's holding her exactly the way lightning embraces
a sapling, enfolding leafless limbs in its crooked gold arms. Hollowing
a scorched place at its core.
Boyka Kluge's first book of poetry, Teaching Bones to Fly,
will be published by Bitter Oleander Press this fall. Her writing
has received several Pushcart Prize nominations, and was given the
1999 Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award by The Bitter Oleander.
She has new work out or forthcoming in Hotel Amerika, Luna,
Natural Bridge, Sentence, and online at Blackbird
and The Blue Moon Review. She is also a visual artist.
"The Way Fire Talks to Wood" first appeared in Pif