“Playing with Matches” by Jane Wheeler

Jane Wheeler


They are hard to find, the strike anywhere kind
with the white tip you taught me to light
against the zipper of my jeans when I was six.

Once you set our kitchen aflame
hid in the long grass behind our house watching
it blaze, more fascinated than afraid.

Now, in the waltzing glow of my woodstove
I dare a safety match to flare,
flick it with my thumbnail and wonder:

Did your hands shake? Did you drop the box,
scatter matches like pick-up-sticks across the floor
before you fired up that Bunsen burner

and inhaled?

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017
Tribute to Civil Servants

[download audio]


Jane Wheeler: “For 25 years I issued driver’s licenses, titled vehicles, gave road tests, vision tests, renewal tests. Yes, I am the person who took that awful photo of you, or made you bring back your proof of insurance, or refused to renew your license because you had unpaid tickets. Although very few of my poems are directly related to that experience (no one would believe them), many are based on the people I met. All of them are short, written and revised in between customers.”

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