Firebug

by Kathleen Hellen

Neon winked   The jukebox accused     you
shouldn’t have done it

My throat a smokestack
sprouting fever from my head
The cops asked   That one, there
That pocket full of posies

The orange pop I had been sipping
                  slipped    A stickiness that

                                opened
into fists   into haloes  from a
host of gnats   opened

into lavenders of air as thick as ash
The third floor of the building like a burned-out match

If you keep this up

Kathleen Hellen is a poet and the author of Umberto’s Night (Washington Writers Publishing House, 2012) and The Girl Who Loved Mothra (Finishing Line Press, 2010). Her poems are widely published and have appeared in American Letters & Commentary; Barrow Street; Cimarron Review; Nimrod; Poetry Northwest; Prairie Schooner; Stand; Sycamore Review; Witness; among others; and were featured on WYPR’s The Signal. A Pushcart nominee, she is senior poetry editor for the Baltimore Review.

As I formatted this piece for its online publication, I became aware of its spaces. How did you decide upon this layout for “Firebug”?

    I like the “unstruck chord” wherein the mind moves between sound and silence. In “Firebug” these “chords” are intended to assist in the compression of the monologue. Narrative in the poem advances using the medial caesura. The “silent pause,” the natural break between the independent clauses of each line, replaces the expectation of end punctuation in the middle of the lines. In this way, space is configured to provoke dramatic tension. The device also functions ironically here to suggest the firebug is lurching toward potentialities, toward consciousness, a dynamic better understood perhaps by the reader than the narrator of the poem and given awareness in the lines: “you shouldn’t have done it” and “If you keep this up.” The terminal caesuras lock the stanzas into movements. As in musical notation, they require a “hold,” where a breath is taken. An opening for awakening. A little opera, if you will, assisted with assonance.
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