“Watching Fireworks Alone” by Emma Törzs

Emma Törzs


In this country, we are sent home
with lice—we trade it back and forth
and learn to catch the bodies

in our nails, school nurses bent over us
as if in tenderness, for we cannot see
their faces, and they touch us

as would nuns, with clinical worship,
and we on the plastic pews
of our child-sized sterile chairs, our feet

swinging just above the floor, our invisible
ink on the shirts of our friends. We see our father
taking drops of St. John’s Wort, his tongue

a meat field in the fence of his bad teeth,
we find our mother writing letters to her sister:
these feelings, she writes, they won’t go away,

and until we asked, we never knew
they had it in them to be so unhappy.
Are we not enough? It’s a slow climb

to understanding, to the truth
that we aren’t blessings on this earth,
and likely we will break

much more than we can fix, and likely
love won’t save a mind
from swinging downward, a bird

dipping to the water for a fish
and plunging on, instead. So
there was something we liked

about having the bugs—nights
spent with our heads wrapped
in plastic bags, tea-tree oil and rosemary

darkening our hair, those rice-grain bodies
writhing in a small bowl
of hot water … A monkey instinct,

to crave the sift of careful fingers
across your scalp, knowing
you are being cleaned, and all you have

to do is let. Our parents: year by year,
we creep towards the unimaginable darkness
of being without them. We think of them

when a Catherine wheel spins
in the midnight above our front porch,
a starlike fire cycling around an empty center,

the cheering echo of a distant crowd …
We think, oh god:
I can speak only for myself.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012
(Download Audio)

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