I was afraid the house
would burn down,
or that it wouldn’t.
Fear that smelled
of Jim Beam
and Kent Regulars
and felt like fists
of stinging nettles
in my twisting child-
size gut. Never thinking
past her hot ashes
falling from cigarette
to mattress. Then
it could be over, the flare
gun of my flaming
house would tell
the story I could not.
Trish and I could almost stand upright
in the wide, concrete cylinder
of the drainage pipe running under
our steep street. We loved to sit inside
on the curved edge and experiment,
making sounds, mouths open wide
to howl or lips pursed to whistle.
We yelled I love Benji Hanson or sang
the chorus to “Dancing Queen.” Syllables
circled our private grotto, pierced
the cool fall air, and seemed to fill
We loved best when football
fans would walk down our street coming
home from the game, and we’d wait
beneath, suppressing giggles until
they passed over the grate above us.
Together, we threw our lawless chorus
Later, deciding whether to wear
painter’s pants or overalls to school
the next day, we remembered what
it felt like to have a voice so powerful
it made knees buckle. We remembered
what it felt like being
Some stories fill the house of your body
like smoke, the smell of cigarette rising
up the carpeted stairs from the kitchen,
ice crackling from plastic tray to glass.
Regular as ballet class and homework, I waited
in my room for her steps up to bed, my shallow
breath background sound for dread. In the flicker
of half-sleep, I was sure her heavy lids, unsteady
fingers would go slack, the lit tip fall, again.
This time sure it would not stop at scorched
carpet or sheets with buttonhole burns, sure
I would feel the blurred heat first.
Some stories live in your bones like fire
on a North Carolina winter night. My father’s
tale of the thunderstorm that hit the farm
after Christmas. How he played with his
toy train on the oval terrain of the brown-
and-gold braided rug by the hearth. How lightning
struck and sparks circled the track, surrounding
him before disappearing. How he froze, unable
to speak, how seventy years later he could feel
the hot current run under the thin flesh of his hand.
Some stories slide thick from behind to settle like black
tar down my fully grown spine, how they no longer ignite
with bending or excess heat, instead stagnant
and unwilling to go, resigned to the staying.
Ellis Elliott likes to split her time as much as possible, between her home in Juno Beach, Florida, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She and her husband have a blended family of six adult sons. She will graduate in May with an MFA in Creative Writing at Queens University. She leads online writing groups based on free writing at bewildernesswriting.com. She is a contributing writer for the Southern Review of Books and her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Evening Street Review, Belle Ombre, Perceptions Magazine, Meadow, and elsewhere.