On the Island of the Fire Eaters

the flicker of death surrounds us. Projected on the wall at a party,
a group of guys—one’s the party’s host—stand around a cadaver:

            a cinematic re-enactment of Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson, 1632. In the painting,
the dead man’s arm is flayed, muscles exposed for the lesson. We couldn’t do that,
says the host, cut the corpse.

            The dead man, now a dead woman in the movie—rigor mortis froze her
elbow bent, her wrist bent, her arm poised to make a shadow-puppet of a swan.

            I bring my drink to my lips; vodka numbs my muscles. The angle of the body
is wrong, the host explains.

            The party makes it impossible to hear the film’s director give orders
to the guys to take their places circling the naked, bloated woman. One guy smiles
into the camera.  His cowboy hat, a stand-in for the 17th-century doctor’s hat, crooked.

            Someone walks in front of the projector—his face, the screen,
obscures the image. He becomes his own light source, like Rembrandt’s stiff,
illuminating us with his alcohol-induced wit and thick accent.

            He’s blurry. I’m tired. It takes awhile to get to the door


            the goodbyes, the kissing on the cheeks, three times, like they do it
in my country, says the host. 

On the Island of the Fire Eaters

we play with our food. Persephone in the underworld flicking seeds
like tiddlywinks—we set fire to sticks with the stolen grist of the sun, twirl the staff
around our arms—whoosh—the air is gashed by the blur of light.

            We look back, before yesterday, before years ago, when we said goodbye
to our mothers. Her voice still reverberates when a match is struck to ignite a candle.

            The wax melts around us. This island is not surrounded by an ocean, only fields
of winter wheat. We purposely forget to turn the lights off in every room we exit.

            The floors are not flame retardant, reminds us how easy it is to live in hell.

            We leave the inspection of fire extinguishers to someone else—dishes heap
in our black sinks. Is the daughter more depressed, or the mother? Where does love fall
between motive and daybreak? If you play with fire

                        , she says as we hold ice against the burn above our hip.