(title from a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire)
One walks, or wants to walk, with the glow
cupped by two hands. As if light were water.
As if lemon verbena,
a blossom around the solid figure of the wick.
But look what can happen.
The heart has been looted of its small valuables:
music, of course, and the dancing couple
from childhood, secure in their velvet-lined box.
What is it that so captivates us in the old cliché?
I am thinking of the light cast from the pines
or the first green shoots of onion.
Bird in the palm if only we were patient enough.
We who lay the fragile thing beating in the yard,
then trust the stray cat won't find it.
Here is the pile of gray feathers and grit.
Who was it who told us courage was a virtue?
A candle burns at solstice on a simple yellow plate.
After work hours, after the bills are paid.
The safe heart then, burrowed into its winter cave?
Fish bones and behind them, swimming.
What is it I expect the heart to do?
Follow me? A handmaid, arranging the bouquets?
Or this tree, then that one, a row of grayer birch
as the flame steps out from the shadows of its house.
* * *
"My Heart Like an Upside-Down Flame" is one of the poems in Melissa Kwasny's latest collection: Reading Novalis in Montana. Kwasny is the author of two previous books of poetry, The archival Birds and Thistle, winner of the Idaho Prize. She is also the editor of Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800 - 1950. She lives in western Montana.