Poems of Place & Displacement

House Fire

I reach for my yellow sweater. It bursts
into flame. Anything I remember
burns again. Recipes from Nana’s walnut box,
father’s letters, every photograph: all
the same black exhalation—
the remains of everything consumed
coat the remains of everything spared.
Memories reduced to images without
objects to anchor them hover
in the space between this morning—
when each room stood intact—
and now, a time without geography.
Nothing ties me to the past,
no ancestral portraits, no letters
in a watery, neat hand urging
goodness, steadiness, obedience.
All the old imperatives
curl in the lingering heat.

Photo Credit:US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Copyright 2007,  Elizabeth Austen

Elizabeth Austen is the WPA/WSAC/Humanities Washington "roadshow poet" for 2007, bringing poetry to underserved rural areas in Washington state. Her commentaries on Pacific Northwest poetry readings can be heard every Monday at 2 p.m. on “The Beat” on KUOW, 94.9, public radio. Her audio CD, skin prayers, is available at elizabethausten.org. "House Fire" was originally published in the Seattle Review, Vol. 25, No. 2, and was also included in Tattoos on Cedar, Vol. 2. (Washington Poets Association, 2006)

<< Previous Contents Next >>