‘and the fire brought a crowd in’
– Austin Clarke

When night stirs in me,
it brings no dream of sea, no quench,
no liquid reprieve. No. Night raises only
the old roar, sets the stench of petrol spilling once more.

O night. How polite, the strangers who pushed me
to choose heirlooms to send out to safety.
How their smiles grew shaky, when I chose
only the front door key. O Home.

Down in the night-damp grass, I stood alone.
Men watched me from the lawn;
I knew their mute gaze, grown grey, grown cold,
as I knew all the women huddled on the gravel,
how they folded whispers in their shawls.

I turned from them and watched it begin –
the brightening – our windows, lit one by one
from within: cellar, to hall, to kitchen.
How the ballroom shone. How the library blazed.

If brigade bells sang, they sang in vain, for flames
were already spilling up the drapes, licking
every hand and face from their gilt frames,
swiping china and ivory knives, fox-furs and silks,
tugging precious stones from each brooch’s golden grip.

Ghosts, those flames, racing up the stairs,
sending smoke through slates,
a vast constellation of sparks to star the dark.
O paraffin splash. O Ash.

When the eaves creaked, one boy came to me,
shy grin twisting to jeer:
The house of the thief is known by the trees.

When I turned to leave, I could feel my back gleam.

Now, I may have no home of my own,
I may be alone, but I am not meek. No.
I am a stone released from old gold,
and oh, I blaze a Sunday through every week.

Credits

Part of the Coole Park Poetry Series, produced with Druid and shot at Coole Park as part of DruidGregory.

Reproduced with permission of the poet.