“Radiant” by Sonja Vitow

Sonja Vitow


Last week my radiator spat hot water all over
the wooden floor. It’s a traditional model
one sees a lot of in New England, you know
the type, it hisses and clangs as though
haunted, like I’m keeping a man chained
to a pipe in the basement. I like a radiator
that makes a fuss when it’s working. I wasn’t
raised with this kind of heat. My parents

had a furnace, metal vents carved low
in the walls. The warmth only crept
into their room if you turned the dial
all the way up, hot air consuming all other
spaces before they could feel it. You never
knew the heat was working until it was
sitting on your chest. I spent winters
pressed against cold walls, windows
open, trying to dispel the unwanted heat—

A week before the radiator poured out
into the living room, you had a cold,
were all stuffed up. There’s an old
practice in Spanish: on your first sneeze,
you’re wished health, then money
on your second, and on your third,
love. Salud, dinero, amor. After I told
you that, you only sneezed in twos. It’s amazing
the things the body knows before
we do. I don’t know how boilers work,

but I know it was my fault. I turned
a lever too high, which caused the boiler
to overflow. The basement flooded, and I
shivered down there watching it, my face
flickering. I told you it would be broken
until morning, when someone more
knowledgeable about these things
could come to repair it. I suppose I hoped
you’d offer bed or body; instead you only
gave this advice: try to stay warm,
as though I have not spent all this time trying.
I know to dress myself in layers; you are the one
who seems so keen on taking them off me—

but I’m beginning to understand. You
are not the first man to come to me
cold, to crave the thing I radiate, wrap
yourself in it until, in the overbearing
silence of night, you kick the blankets off.

from Rattle #65, Fall 2019


Sonja Vitow: “My cousins would tell you I never became a poet because I always was one. Not in an admiring tone, not like, ‘Wow, Sonja is really the poet of the family,’ but more like, ‘Look at the weird kid writing poems to her pet rocks.’ I continued being a poet because I love my cousins. This mockery is an integral aspect of our familial bond, and I fear what would become of my family without it.” (web)

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