“Fire Flowers” by Jonathan Greenhause

Jonathan Greenhause


In Japanese, the word for “office” is a character composing
two smaller characters meaning “enclosed space”
and “slumping corpse.”

Outside, a soft rain’s falling on what was once the corner deli
but is now an immense pile
of pipes and bricks, chips of cement, and crumpled menus.
I used to eat there with my wife, who’s no longer my wife but rather
someone’s girlfriend. We used to order a plate of cheese fries
and discuss the feasibility of being married,
not knowing we could have more efficiently spent that time
doing something else, like organizing an expedition to the Arctic
or handing out flyers to save the corner deli
from its eventual demolishment.

If I turn on the TV set, I’ll no doubt be reminded that today’s not Saturday
and tomorrow’s not Sunday, and whatever I decide to watch
will simply be a way not to think about what I’m not doing.
On these days between the days I’m actually living,
relatives occasionally call to assure themselves I’m still breathing,
telling me small details I could do without, while in their voices’ dark corners
I hear their latent, unfulfilled desires, and part of me
wishes to take their hands and guide them towards the unknown,
but just as I’m reaching out, grazing their invisible skin,
the connection’s cut, breaking them loose into their lonely longing.

On my coffee breaks, I muse on the metaphysical consequences
of a slumping corpse in an enclosed space,
and I think how our word for “fireworks” is practical, but in Japanese
it’s literally a “fire flower,” which I find to be inherently more poetic:
“If you look into the sky at this very moment
you may see flowers composed of fire,” and you may see stars
exhaling their last breaths onto a coal canvas,
momentarily warming the vast frozen space.

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008

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Jonathan Greenhause: “Flash cards can be an extremely inspiring tool for the writing of poetry, as evidenced by an innocent entry I saw on the rather mundane subject of offices. But poetry’s like that. The ordinary becomes something unexpected and unknowable, and then just as suddenly it spins back into the world in which we belong. Still, afterward nothing’s quite the same.” (website)

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