After the Fire: Poems by Kieran Dieter

Fire Prayer

Let me be bright like one, let me be self-sustaining, let the rest
be my unusable ash, solids gone the weight of a sunburn, weight
of forgetting, let me be strong enough to bend iron, let my shape be the shape
of everything I touch, let me mark the limits of civilization, gather me
in wires, spread me from the tip of a fennel stalk, find me
when you need me most, pump me through the veins
of your house, use me in remembrance, listen to the sounds I make, let me worry
the edges, carry me in the center of all things, potential, see through
to what I contain, let me spread thinner than plasma, let me be a breath, hot
on the back of your neck, let my fairness burn the edges of your fields, let it
burn the center, let me be the force in your face when you wake


Brownstone

a room is a space to be filled and here there are many
lives many changing places over how many

years and only imagine
before the cars drowned out our speaking a history

of holes in the walls of who lived here and who
made a home under our things the ones who came before

and before my friend’s house he offered me
space and I took it one room

in five floors one life in many doors sealed
to shelter to keep going keep going up

to the top floor his parents’ rooms and back to the bottom where
his father worked where his mother wrote where she talked

where kitchens where cupboards the third floor the second
where walls should be boxes where halls should be this room

a bookcase a pile of books a bedroom an alley to where in the fire
a dark line spooling upward from everything it resembles


Blowing into a Landscape

In front of each house on that street, a tree ringed by a wrought iron fence. In one tree, a child’s plush snake woven through the branches: a garland, a false vine.

Everywhere: gray sidewalk, gray street. Something here about the sure seep into concrete. What I mean to say is the observer changes

the observed. And so I lived here, and so it lives in me: wrought iron fence spikes. With your face, Elaine,
hologrammed over everything.

Does it help that I knew I had the ravaged hands of a serial killer, afterward?

That every morning I woke having slept on them, slept on them until they numbed, until, enormous oven mitts, unreachable cloud particles, they swatted and tore down, smothered, and bled to ruin,

while I in what of me remained mine walked simply to a park bench, sat, and tucked my legs under. What weakness to desire

such empathy. Having caused it from the start, of course

having caused it, because, as you recall, as you, a writer and a psychoanalyst, wrote: “that which we do not bring into consciousness appears in our lives as fate.” I woke this morning

sure I heard you showering in your bathroom above me and then, as I came into myself, knew the sound was only the chafing of fall leaves, washing each other’s brittle hearts to pieces.

If only I’d listened sooner, been more conscious, when I moved into the house that we would share,
Elaine, of the fact that it was not me moving into the space, but us, our beings particulate,

permeable, blowing over each other.


Strangers

Was myself on the sidewalk telling myself
to calm down was the man who held me still who
I never turned around to see was his voice

Was myself on the phone was my mother
saying calm down calm down
was the phone I’d never seen before was whose

Was the woman who asked me what right I had there
who’d lived downstairs fifteen years never seen me
was her desire to stay in the flood of her room

Was my friend’s father on the stretcher looking upward
was the ladder stretching upward to the bedroom window
was everything was rising was we couldn’t find his wife

Was the steps I sat on was the clothes I was given
was the police officer who asked if I’d known her was the smell
coming off of me when he told me she’d died was my own sound

Was myself on the phone to my friend
was my friend to himself when I told him
was the words that were perfectly clear


After the Fire

After the fire, you may notice some damage that seemed unnecessary. Based on wildfires, and real tragedies. Fire gutted. Residents were forced. Found dead. After flames raged. You may experience anxious feelings, depression. “Why broken windows?” Or “Why holes in the wall?” After the fire broke out. After a fire late Thursday destroyed. To survive and then cope after. Water extraction and dehumidification; mold remediation and mitigation. Your home after the fire. A body in the bedroom after. Lit a rug and some magazines. After a fire destroyed a dozen homes. After Saturday fire. After Rockaway fire. After banging on the door. Assess the true worth of what remains. What to do after a fire. Breathing fine powder.

*

After it appears to be out, watch it carefully. Even after the fire-damaged section has been torn off. Who was ever on the side of the damned? Fire is fire. What happens after this remains. Dashing two flints together. None of us will ever know exactly how.

*

Wild, will spread through.
Burns, weaves, maintains.
Humans, a stand of trees.

*

The ground was extremely hot for some time.

The Guard

Down at my floor, at my knees, I look
down, say,

I called my friend, I did;

brought my own hands to blister
with a dumb candle flame;
a sign,

I thought, that some animal left carcasses
strewn across the yard and I looked
into the gleaming

viscera; down at my hands, from a cell phone
I called him; if

devotion
is always like that; she died, I’m sorry, I

love you;
we’d think the light for the way it
cuts right through
a monument

but then we’d miss the guard quiet in the corner, gun
across his lap; I knew

enough to know I must have left the burner on,
when the alarm,
later, wouldn’t shut up; enough, at least, to think it;

even at five months, my dog knew enough
to leave the squeaker be

when she finally got it out of the toy,
and when she saw I’d seen it,
I found in her eyes

a human lowering; I’m not; if the confession

is as selfish as the act; I ran out of the house; I shut
the front door;

to be in complete control; I look
down; complete control of one’s faculties.


When I Raise my Eyes and You Are not

Low flat roofs, a beige palette, the sky with its pale face.
Even in a sterile environment, the provocation:

say the warm round space of a church bell
but a siren still twins the clang.

*

When I was 14 I thought I wanted to die,
didn’t you? It’s hard to remember

where it came from, when it started. Go back,
back farther, a breakfast of rhododendrons,

poison at the elementary school bus stop, dishing up
pink throats, green stems, the quick tear sound from the living—

*

I ripped the needle from my arm. Forgive me. I was under
anesthetic. Things were fuzzy. Your face. You. The doctor
I mean. Static. The needle out. My blood. Gray-black dots. 
The pouring grains.

Tube out. The only way. Out my nose, my throat where
the tube just barely didn’t rub against. Sulfur
to scrape clean. Yes, I did this to myself. Always
the hard way. Which must mean I deserve it.

*

I swear it. Battered the fire to low pops.

The cloud-mottled moon seen clear.

The roof: gone. Bricks defend, bricks—untrue.

I swear it. Take. Take me instead. My I.

Say body is new now. Your you—new.

I’m honest. And unfree. Both of us, but not equally.

*

Got what I wanted. For once
I say it clearly. I made it out alive.

But where are you?

Where are you?  I say it clearly
for once. I walk out of the house

and you die. I sit on the steps and you die.
I water my flowers

and you keep right on dying. What will happen
when I raise my eyes and you are not

retreating?

Kieran Dieter is a writer, artist, and educator. Their poems, short stories, and creative nonfiction have appeared in Atticus Review, FIELD, Juked, Pleiades, and Prairie Schooner, among other journals. They were a finalist for the Italo Calvino Prize and Third Coast’s Jaimy Gordon Prize in Fiction. They live with their family in Providence, RI.