Flames In My Reflection
by Savannah Boulware
“When anger spreads through the breath, guard
thy tongue from barking idly” – Sappho
My mother was born the year the eruptions
began. Months before her birth, the sky and
the earth opened as one. The ground billowed
blankets of magma, the blue beckoning smoke
to seal itself away. Ashes ascended like black
rain, clouds crafted as dark omens. I think my
mother quaked as the Helens raged, lava
spewing from her blood.
The wince falling from my lips stutters
as my mother rakes the brush through
my hair once more, tender head against
tender tongue. Coiled curtains twisted in
quilted knots, the huff of my mother’s
breath sticky on my neck. Wet trails streak
my cheeks, burning my eyes and boiling
my face. What cannot be said will be wept.
I swallow the hot tears.
My fingers find the follicles of my girlfriend’s
hair, massaging the roots like the muscle of a
migraine. The palm of my hand holds the crown
of her head, rubbing lazy circles as her eyes
swallow themselves. Hums vibrate my cheek,
fingers intertwined together with hair caught
between. My strokes are timid, her smile pleasant.
Her head is just as tender as mine.
I do not hold my mother’s hand. She tells me to
follow her, watch what she does. This is how you
clean up after yourself. I scrub every dish until I
see the reflection of my eyelashes, wet with soap
and scrutiny. Where did I put my shoes? I follow
every foot print until my own feet are bare. She
leaves vibrating with anger, my laces tied on her
feet. I stay resided in guilt that I cannot explain.
My lips stretch themselves into a smile,
reflecting your own mouth. Tattered jeans
folded over clean sheets, a corner of your
dresser drawer spared—you’ve made room
for me—my shirts now caressing yours.
This is how I like to fold my clothes. I mimic
your ways willingly, happily. Skinned chicken,
roasted potatoes, baked greens. I take the dishes
as they come, drowning them with suds and
sink water. Flecks of heat dribble down my wrist.
The burn subsides as you wipe it away. Thank you
for cleaning up, you tell me. Now the only heat I feel
is the flush of lips, my fingers trembling from
excitement, not shame.
When I share my mother’s mirror, we are two flames
that ignite each other. I heel at the sign of fire
taking over, magma overflowing, smoke seizing
my tongue. But she rises from the eruptions,
letting the blazes burn.