“How to Carry Fire” begins with the aftermath of what appears to have been a real house fire, in “Insurance Report”, where forms have to be completed,
” How many items in the fridge?
Unable to remember every object,
we were only certain of what was lost:
. the stained glass unicorn
. that Sioux tribe necklace
. our grandfather’s final brick
We cried out for these totems:”
The poem raises questions about the value we place on things and how we place a higher value on objects with sentiments attached even though they may not be materially valuable. The fire doesn’t just destroy, it also reveals in “Making Fire”, a father picks up a poker than he,
my mother’s neck,
pinning her to the wall
until her breath became so shallow
you cooled, and when you slept
she gathered up her things
and just enough courage
to brave the cold
and leave you”
The mother takes the children with her. There’s a bitter-sweetness in “Worth Telling”, dedicated to a nephew,
“No one will tell you, but your dad will try:
that he loved you even before you were born,
long before. He loved even the smallest idea of you.
But I can tell you this, because back when your dad
and me were young, I asked him:
What do you want to be when you grow up?
And quick as a greyhound he answered:
a dad. I want to be a dad”
It takes courage to break a cycle of abuse, and for an abused child to become a loving parent. The title poem suggests the fire never left the children, with the instruction to stoke
“with the poker your father pressed into
your mother’s neck. Take what those flames
can give you. Feel heat enter your stomach.
Stay wary now. You must never let the light
go out. Keep it lit until you learn to glow.”
Some poems explore aspects of addiction. In “Bad Things”, the you addressed is the narrator’s brother,
“You are going to lose your phone,
therapist, house, women, and all the while
you will write to me to say I’m okay,
I’m okay, tell me you still have somewhere
warm to stay, but I’ll know you are driving
to the city in a car that will run out of gas
and then—into the addicts who all the bad
things happen to—you will disappear.”
However, there are lighter moments when the poet turns to her marriage, in “Most Days,”
“Most days I bump into you—
don’t notice how my feet move
or where my arms swing, the girth
of my belly, because I’m too busy
listening to the sound of your voice,
watching you point at magpies, touching—
briefly—the small of your back.”
It contains a tenderness, a sense of how love can occupy and distract from our faults because someone’s noticing our strengthens.
The original fire has become a metaphor for internalised anxiety and trauma. The run away from an abusive father leaves a legacy that prompts a brother to succumb to addiction. The poems, however, take that trauma and transform it into measured, considered poems that seek to explore without judgement. They show compassion and humanity, admitting faults and celebrating successes. Christina Thatcher’s fire doesn’t just destroy, it paves the way for regrowth.
Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection.