Poem: The Burning—Liz Berry

January 12, 2021 | Filed Under Poem for Hela | No Comments

The Burning
Liz Berry

It was the hard winter she came,
frozen larks plummeting through the gloam like falling stars,
each pail in the yard a slattern’s looking glass.

Each dusk, the house cobwebbed by creeping frost,
my husband slipped like a knife from an oyster,
my sons nestled like dormice in their cots,
I stood at my black window and oh
the cold it pressed upon me like a lover,
held its hands to my throat, my knees.

She came first through the trees:
a small glint amongst the poplars,
hoarfrost dripping from the velvet nubs of their antlers,
leaping fast to a shuddering pillar of flame,
her pelvis a cradle of jeweled tinder,
her ribs white kindling. A holy thing—
such furious unblossoming—and something profane.

I pressed my eye to the glass, the crackling dark,
saw her heart catch light,
blackbirds flap frantic from the forks of trees—
—woke shivering, sweat between my breasts,
my tongue in my teeth.

Every night then she came
in the stolen hours between caring and dream,
the children vanished, the drudging chaos of day
put to sleep.
I have no words to tell of the shapes she scorched,
the frozen lock, the copper key,
but that heat licked me raw as a wild love,
cracked the ice on my ribs and tossed in a flare.

All my life I have been a good woman,
compliant, neat, my children’s snow boots polished,
each snowflake of ash swept clean from my step.
I’ve worn obedience like a uniform,
the hoof of the iron cooling in my grate.
Yet I riled in the witching hour, tongue glittering.
My darling, I whispered to my own dry bones,
for what do you burn?

Three moons she has been absent,
though I wait at my window, the chill persisting, presaging snow,
and my longing rises hopeless as the carp in the pool.
I don’t know where she is living
or if she lives at all—
with women nursing in fevered sheets
or scrubbing floors until their knuckles ignite?

But by dark, when my sons sail the black cut
of sleep, and frost lays its terrible lace
upon the grass, when I am alone with my fretting,
with my dreams like black pearls in the clam of my mouth,
I press my fists to that tenderest wound—my soul—
and Christ how I burn.

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