Stone Soup Servings Presents: Chris Warner

 

Stone Soup Servings is a regular series for Oddball Magazine that features upcoming performers at Stone Soup Poetry, the long-running spoken word venue in the Boston area that has partnered with Oddball Magazine. Stone Soup Poetry now meets from 8-10 p.m. every Monday at the Out of The Blue Art Gallery’s new location at 541 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square Cambridge, Massachusetts. The open mike sign-up at 7:30 p.m.

This Monday on November 10, we welcome back Chris Warner. The poem below for your reading pleasure was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

 

Engulfed

In memory of Evelyn Spodnik, a badly burned Wentworth elementary school teacher
who died from her injuries… (she) had been lit on fire by the man she was living with,
according to the New Hampshire attorney general.

And what could have driven him into the garage—
assuming that is, that the gas can wasn’t waiting on the bare wood floor
next to the faded-flowered sofa, bats of stuffing pushing through split seams,
in the dim grey living room where
thready drifts of cat hair and house dust spun in the corners, where
her textbooks tottered and pencils lay scattered and
math papers needed to be graded, where
one set of curtains hung twisting,
the two end hooks missing—
the room where
maybe
his slow-simmering haze first set to raging;
no, the gas can would have been in the garage, near his tool belt, or maybe
next to the weed-whacker he was always too tired to use, or
under the rusting snow-blower, and
first of all
he had to
get to it—
pushing his way through the kitchen,
maybe past a white farmer’s sink piled deep with last night’s soaking dishes,
maybe down a dark hallway stacked with twine-tied piles of newspaper;
and
maybe
he even had to slam through some side door first,
pounding over a crushed stone path,
clutching the cool metal knob in the thick
of his cracked fingers and grease-stained palm, and then
opening that door, because maybe
the garage
is an entirely separate building.

And you wonder—was it sunny that morning?

___

And what could have been in his mind as he picked up that gas can?
Was it like a sitcom soundtrack (but without the laugh track)
replaying some loop of bickering—
who was supposed to pay the electric bill— or
had it been paid at all— or
whose turn to take out the recycling?
Or was it just the rise and fall the echo the bounce,
the day in the day out sound of her voice—maybe
asking for more tea or
pass the Lifestyle section—and
did she say please?—
that rake and grate of pathetic pleading—
or the slight sound of her sighs— maybe
that hiss of disappointment or depression or derision —or
was she just tired?— or
was it just the fact of her breathing?
Or, maybe it was simply the very sight of her,
sitting with her face in some book,
the very sight of her in those terry cloth Wall-Mart shorts—
faded to pink from too many washings—
the sight of her fleshy thighs spreading, her sagging knees,
her crepey-skinned shins rippled with varicose veins.
And maybe he was thinking how long it had been since those legs—
rippled or not— were wrapped around his waist
or his neck.
And maybe he saw her face glaze,
saw her eyes shift just slightly away—again—
as he spoke to her—and maybe
he wanted to know
what in the fuck she was looking at off in that fucking distance.

You wonder— what could he have been feeling
as he carried that gas can back into the house—
was he burning, his stomach churning,
thinking of last night’s dinner not made
when he arrived home, tired, in his stained blue coveralls?
Or, maybe made, but completely unsatisfactory—
say store-brand hot dogs on just-gone-to-stale buns
instead of chicken on the grill or
maybe even
a steak.
Or was there just a deep long chill inside,
burrowed down in the bones of his teeth, in the cold held hinge of his jaw?
And was he just dying for heat?

You picture his hard fist—the one not gripped around the can handle—hanging stiff
by his side—squeezed shut.

___

And what made him begin to splash that gas onto her—
because maybe he first had to set the can down, unscrew
the black metal cap,
pick the can back up,
maybe heaving,
maybe it was full and
heavy,
maybe he
heard it
smelled it
felt it
sloshing.
Maybe he was sweating, his
armpits soaked and stinking.
Maybe he was holding her down.

And you wonder how he lit the match—
and was the pack already in his pocket?
Were his hands shaking, his hot breath panting?
Maybe he had to set the can down
again
and then find the matchpack, digging down around the lint,
finding it,
pulling it out,
opening it up, and
then striking that one match—
or maybe
it took
two.
And was he pinning her ribcage between his thighs, or maybe
crushing her chest with his knees? And could he feel her, beneath him, pulsing?
Was that sweet scent of sulfur intoxicating?

Or maybe he just used a Bic lighter.

Maybe the last sound she heard was just a cheap plastic click.

 

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