Marita O’Neill

Arsonist’s Blues

The matches ask, do all crimes begin with a knot
in the stomach? I wonder as I stand, match in hand

and consider phosphorus, consider the scratch drag
of potassium chlorate itching for friction and light,

consider the house, its cerulean shingles, its tentative
walls, crooked drainpipes, and remember you inside,

my love, remember how you emerged from ocean,
arms a triumphant sun, wishing I could save you.

Wishing to stop the knock and drag of undertone
and amplitude, the volume of  “Desolation!

Desolation!” that Longfellow cried as Portland city
burned. Thrown from high stories of conflagration,

a baby died, flung to the street with no one to catch
him. So ferocious were the flames where John Bundy

Brown’s Sugar House burned, they choked the city
in sweet black smoke refined from the sweat and ache

of the people enslaved in the West Indies. Survivors
called the city Resurgum––phoenix––long after families

stood, ash to their ankles, homeless, soot weary and
dazed. I once kissed an old boyfriend, near the end

of things, and when our tongues scratched in the heat
of it, I understood in a flash that I might burn our future

house down—kids, dog, and him, maybe even myself.
I imagined the flames’ lick and engulf: stuffed animal

melt, books curling into feather, ash blooming into roses.
So I return to the matches. Consider the sand and scrape

of friction. Consider the crack and claw of flame’s lapping
at my ankles like waves and their itchy promise of renewal.

Marita O’Neill                         

Marita O’Neill lives in Portland, Maine. She has her MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches English at Yarmouth High School. She has had poems published in the Portland Press Herald’s “Deep Water” series, The Cafe Review, and Smoky Blue, as well as an anthology of poems about the pandemic, called Wait: Poems from the Pandemic, published by Littoral Books.