Sacred Heart

I loved a man with a burning sickness
who every day set himself on fire for fear of the dark.
The people who came to hear him sing
cheered as he blackened around the edges,
tried to catch on their tongues
the flakes of ash that blew off him whenever
a gust snuck in the side door.

Late nights he’d call me from his place;
a few coughs into the receiver and I’d already be warming up my car.
When I got there, I’d throw open the kitchen window
and leave my hands outside
to grow red and stiff, near to cracking.
I’d hold them just above the pot of dead marigolds on the fire escape
for as long as it took.

Then we’d sit on the couch,
his head on my chest and his body shaking on top of mine,
and I’d stroke his forehead with my raw hands.
That’s how I drew the fever out of him
to break its back against my knees
and throw it in the trash
with the cores from the apples that kept him sweet.

In our first house,
my parents used to soak rags
and hang them against the holes in the walls and windows.
The rags would freeze solid
and keep out the cold with cold.

Maybe I’ve got the wrong idea.

*Edited since original publication in Icarus Vol. 62, No. 2

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