Problems With Romance


You have heard, I’m sure, that it is the blue flame
that is hottest. This is the purest of heats.
When Jesus roasted a lamb for his supper
the spit would stick it under the nose of a blue flame,
the flame, like a royal food tester, would lick it
all over, smack its pale blue angel lips and say,
“No, no poison in this one, no reason to ship off
into the unleavened bread just to keep on living for another day.”

When Judas came in the night as one whose roses
had not arrived in time for Valentine’s day, came
with night in his beard to kiss his lover open-eyed,
the staled cordial of his heart nudging at the back of his throat,
when this greatest moment in the history of romantic love
became engorged on the page of the old love book,
the blue flame leapt out of Christ’s tonsils
and tasted those hairy lips before flesh
tasted flesh, dipped ethereally into a faint gesture
of blue, said, “And all along
I thought you were just paranoid . . .”


My recent interest in the sciences has got me all worked up about flame.
The red flame, the old familiar, that is the flame said to be
least hot. Red would merely melt, whereas blue,
like the girth of the sky suddenly uncorseted,
would engulf. Blue flame
is Zeus’s electric ejaculation
disestablishing the curiosity of maidens like a perfect philosophy
might quell the desire for sex.

But if I am to make any contribution to the field, let it be
the acknowledgement of a variety of darker flames.
A descent of flame, a degeneration
from the pure and holy
to the immeasurably tainted and feckless.

There are mean purple flames like those pretty skies
they say come from pollution, purpling from self-extinguishment
like Christ’s kingly birthday suit torn over the casting of lots
and carried away into the dismantled pettiness of dark.

There are deep green flames like sick plants,
heavy gray flames that make a knocking sound
like two stones knocking unable to make a spark, awful
tan flames that swallow heat and forget it
into the desert in the nighttime.

There are personalized flames like birthstones
signifying our medleys of temperament, flames
that existed long before humanity, ancient flickering
minerals sitting deep in the earth in their yogic trances,
pushing our souls this way and that
with a slow telekinetic heat.

My own flame is a marshy brown, nearly black in a certain light,
that shivers like an accidental hail of brimstone
snuffed out in mid-flight, quenched into a type of muddy slop,
as if God said “whoops”
and checked his rashness, albeit awkwardly.

Such a flame is not even hot to the touch and
feels like cool peat that is on your skin and then suddenly not
as it laps at you, in the way a snake doesn’t leave
behind it a large wet worm trail although it
seems it could have.


When I was rattling through my closet the other day
for a pair of boots I could have sworn I still had
I discovered the flame fiddling around with a patch of mildew.
It almost burned my hand like a genie freed from a bottle,
ready to grant reckless wishes, but it just couldn’t.

“Flame,” I said, looking at it sincerely and lovingly,
“I would like it if you moved out of this old closet
and moved in under my bed.”
“Hmm,” said the flame,
“since you have given me two weeks notice,
I find your proposition suitable.”

We were happy for some time with this arrangement,
whenever women visited us I assured them
my flame was harmless
and couldn’t burn up anything.
“Go ahead, put your hand in it,” I would nudge.
This always astonished them and they cringed.

But when all good things are in their proper positions
the dimensions of the rooms begin to get antsy
and the house starts to look like it was redecorated
by M.C. Escher
on a picture straightening binge,
so when I said, “Flame, would you like to come live on my desk
and write poetry for me?” it sighed and told me that
I don’t understand it, I never really understood.

In a display of grand melodrama,
quivering with determined muddiness,
it explained to me that, alas, it was a destructive force,
and that it had been gradually consuming everything it touched
burning it into ashes.

The analogy it used was that of an enormous python,
a python the size of a ring around Saturn that had
swallowed and was digesting the bulk of Saturn itself at
the immeasurably slow rate at which space digests light—that,
it said, was how it was digesting the house, and that was how
it would digest my poetry.

“But until then . . .” I pleaded.
“See,” it said, “I told you, you don’t understand.”
“Make me understand,” I said.
“I can’t,” it said. “I think I better move back to the closet.”

And then it left me, and I felt like I had nothing
but an after image of murky kisses burned onto my lips
to lick at in the night, to trust only hesitantly.


Now the flame, my flame, although it resides quietly in the closet
possibly consuming boots and old towels
could eventually devour the entire world, and intends to
and that, I think, is the secret;
it’s racing with the lifespan of the sun.

I’d like to think it would say,
“Now you are beginning to understand”
as I suggest that it is an ancient opened thing,
opened and emptied
by the force of a personal architecture, an urn,
a thing that loves the feathery touch of ashes,
the fallen sight of ashes falling into the density of darkness,
that loves the love of black imp-angels,
and loves the hunger that is never satisfied,
the way time, in our illusion of it, is never satisfied with itself
and must go on.

Or it’s an ancient will, like an idea of the divine
before there was a divine,
that means to love everything gradually in its own way
and proves, tragically, but not really “tragically,”
that nothing can ever love it back.
I’d like to think it says, resignedly, “I will love you anyways.”

And there’s the sorrowful love of the universe
unrequited if only because too subtle,
the sad love, the Blues like the quiet blue spill
of milk that floats our now cowless galaxy,
vestige of udder sustaining life with a slow nutrient of poison,
Mother Milk Cow Blues
dimly burning in the cellular bones of everything.

I want it to say, “Now you are beginning to understand,”
and maybe redeem me into its reality
so I could sanctify its loneliness, be an easy rider
unraveling my wardrobe of need
as it rambles absurdly, nearly stilled,
on its journey through the highway’s appetites.

But it doesn’t say that, it doesn’t say anything,
and I’m starting to feel the cosmos wend into a saddle
of increasing space turning inside out,
the Great Gulp of a throat to counteract the Big Bang . . . .

And burning, everything burning, nearly hot enough and hungry
for the Age of Coming Home to be born.

The flame says nothing,
it doesn’t even return my boots
which it has worn out in the feast of walking.