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“Evidence of Fire” by Jennifer Maloney

…And that’s when he noticed soot on the ceiling…
—from “This Small-Brained Human Species May Have Buried Its Dead, Controlled Fire and Made Art”
Kate Wong, Scientific American Magazine, June 5, 2023

Unbuckle, unzip, undo, while what is sweet in you
transmutes to salt, preserves these fugitive kisses,
fills my mouth with ocean, stings
where I have bitten my tongue.

I cannot think. My brain
is filled with chemical mud.
I have given over. Surrendered

to the car’s self-driving mechanism—
I am dreaming in the backseat,
already in your bed
as I hydroplane, skate
from lane to lane.

I cannot write,
but I can hieroglyph a message,
make the sign for water, for drowning.
I can leave the pattern
of my fingers on your skin,
like handprints in red ochre stamped
to cave walls, or soot on the ceiling
that says we burned here, but

we don’t even leave each other
voicemails. Delete
texts and emails as they arrive,

and if I lick the letters of my name
between your thighs,
between your sighs,
nobody knows.

We can’t save ourselves
with salt or soot. Kiss me anyway,
and hold me even if you can’t hold on.
If we are just chemicals, or dreams,
or simply smoke,
then we are just the same as everyone else:
the traces we leave if not invisible,
at least not completely knowable,
all those poor archaeologists,
standing over our bones,
scratching their heads, mystified.

You and me,
a genuine wonder.

About the Poet

Jennifer Maloney

Jennifer Maloney is a Rochester, NY based disabled writer living with chronic illness. This poem appears in her new full-length collection Evidence of Fire published by Clare Songbirds Publishing House. You can purchase the book at www.claresongbirdspub.com/featured-authors/jennifer-maloney/

Maloney is the former president of Just Poets, Inc., a literary organization celebrating 15 years bringing poetry into the public sphere around Rochester and western New York State. She writes from a place of addiction and recovery, from bone-deep knowledge of poverty, from the wilds of mental illness, and with gratitude for the love she has given and received.

You can find her poetry and fiction in Litro Magazine, Synkroniciti Magazine, ImageOutWrite volumes 7 and 8, and SHIFT: A Publication of MTSU Write. She has stories forthcoming in Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine and Literally Stories. Jennifer is the co-editor of the poetry anthology Moving Images: Poetry Inspired by Film (Before Your Quiet Eyes Publishing, 2021), and the author of Don’t Let God Know You Are Singing, forthcoming from the same press. She is also a parent, a partner, and a very lucky friend. She stays grateful so she can stay sober, and still feels all the things.

The Poem of the Week feature is curated by literary legacy awardee R.D. Pohl.