Fritz Ward



At the end of love there is a stove.

At the end of suffering a snowman naked down to the charcoal briquettes.

At the end of earth a shower drain tangled with black hair.

At the end of day an electric fence crackling in the rain.

At the end of night a runway from which all dreams depart.

At the end of death clarified butter.

At the end of sky a space. At the end of space a wishing well.

At the end of all beginnings a door like any other, dividing inside from out.



I can't put a finger on the first spark,
can't say where the smoke started, or when.
But it started. It mattered. It changed

If asked, I'd say you're closer to my nightmares
than to my parents, or that you're a child
of every war I've ever fought
with myself. That's okay,

even the sky has a second story
to tell, and it's not always heaven.

Sometimes, it's your father looking down
at the fresh story of blood across your chin,
a soon-to-be scar written with your awkward
adolescence and the driveway gravel—He answers,
You're a man,
             and this means almost nothing:
                                                         cock and chromosomes,
                                                         balls and breath. Almost

if your mother had touched
                              the ruined door of your face—

God might still be the first curtain
of flames, the book of matches
still a hymnal in your pocket,
             and the night—
But what does it matter?

             The night is
a basement of broken furniture
and the cracked-glass faces of relatives
face down in the dust, or, for the lucky few,
stacked face to face, their lips inches from touching.

The nights you find yourself delivered
to an empty house on a country road,
there's no denying the brief triumph of fire.
             The smolder and glow. The argument
of oxygen and ash.

You kneel and stare down through the basement
window, where just now it's beginning
to take shape: a room of orphaned light
and kindling, where the scripture of flames
is just another metaphor for emptiness—
             and the faces, brightly lit, refuse the rain.



             Let's be honest: the sun's incessant sermon
of starlight is too much. The three grains of rock salt
dissolving on the ice-covered street reveal nothing
about devotion. Often enough, love is weaker

             than gravity. Now let's be dishonest:
here, I'll offer you this vision of a cardinal
stationed in the pin oak, a red ransom note
illuminating the window, desire incognito.

             Feathered red and sprinkled with lice,
the metaphor is marked for illness, for a hospital window
painted shut in Syracuse. Here, let's watch the patient
as she watches a nest of crooked twigs and gray string slowly

             untangle. Now it's your turn: I want an alley
of snow and cigarette butts beyond the oak tree.
A man with six coats pissing his initials
into the hour-old snow. He'll answer my uncertainty

             by explaining the evolution of parking garages:
how the exhaust gathering in the corners translates into a warmth
that lingers till midnight. To be honest, the man is a flower-
potted drunk. He adorns the alley. The leaves of his hands unfold

             for loose change. But he's not even mine, not unless
—No, not even then. You can take him from me, if,
for a moment, you believe there's one person
you were meant to save. If you describe the trembling

             hands, the dried blood decorating his zipper. Only if
he'll save you with his need. Only if you remember
you're my mother and not dementia's angel. But maybe
I want to keep this season of self-deception: leaves resurrecting

             the hills, a red metaphor on a gray branch,
the therapy of acid rain seeping into the basement, flooding
the family portraits of discontent—flooding my life
with honesty, which was only ankle-deep to begin with,

             barely deep enough for the drowning. But the truth
is less convincing than snow, and the truth is, I want to hurt
you. Just a little. Just enough to make you turn this page
and lie with me a little longer.




These poems are excerpted from the chapbook-in-waiting, Sig.