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Waterlogged Recollections

Poem by Dakota Parks

Published by Emerald Coast Review XXI, 2021

The night my father took five gallons of gasoline
And a Zippo lighter to my childhood home
In a manic and methamphetamine-induced frenzy
I was at a lock-in playing hide-and-seek
in the empty high school classrooms
Hiding in the gym lockers
My ringtone resonated through the steel
like microphone feedback
When the call came through
I thought it was a joke,
I begged the person on the phone
To do anything they could to save our animals
Break the door down
Shatter the windows
Climb through the basement storm shelter
When I relayed the call to my mother,
I heard a laugh on the other end of the line
I did not know then what that laugh meant
Whether she too thought it was a joke
Or if she knew already that it was arson

It took exactly nine minutes to drive the fifteen-mile
Stretch between the school and our farm
The lake road swarmed with buzzing
Paramedics, firetrucks, police officers
From all tri-state counties
Barricading the farm in a semi-circle
Suffocating every roadway to the house
Leaving me no option but to run barefoot
Through gravel, shattered beer bottles, and thorns
When I finally saw our home---
Coughing out flames from the flank
Sick with pneumonia
From all the mold growing in the floorboards
Three floods swallowing her whole
1965, 1973, 2008
The freshly painted siding and pine scented stairs
From the last reconstruction
Only three years prior

My mother's silhouette illuminated
Against the backdrop of our burning home
Holding three dogs in a horse lead-rope by their collars---
From a distance, she looked like
Persephone and Cerberus
Escaping Hell---
The fire a byproduct of a messy divorce
Sixteen years as a Stockholm-afflicted Persephone
Finally emerging from a hellish marriage
With soot-covered clothing
And a jewelry box hoisted on her shoulder
Ripped down from the wall of the burning house
Pieces of drywall falling off the nails with each step she took,
She turned briefly
To look back upon the house,
Like Lot's wife upon Sodom---
When we finally locked eyes,
I had never seen someone so content
In the face of destruction
So utterly calm and collected
As if floodwater and fire promised a fresh start

She did not cry once
Not even
When the firefighters told us it could be a gas leak
Or that once the roof caught fire, there was no saving it
Old flood houses burn fast
Not even
When they found our missing farm dog on fire
Huddled in the rubble of the porch
When his lungs finally gave out months later
After thousands of dollars in vet bills
Not even
When I found the missing metal gas can
That was never recovered from the garage
In the back of my father's pickup
Not even
When she kissed me on the forehead
Smelling of smoke and sweat and sorrow
And told me to leave that night of the fire---
I can still remember the words she said
As she handed me her life savings in that jewelry box:
Let that fucker burn---
nothing in this world matters
more than my children---
not even that old house
Haunted and too waterlogged to burn
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