This is the story you like best of all:
How, my first year of fighting fires found me
naked in the bunk, Nick with one finger
against thigh, one at nipple. Station silent,
only tip of pipe into skin. Nick’s thrusts
a thing I might like if I didn’t fight fires.
In that silence—sirens—saved by the bell,
skins slipped separate, zippers zipped up,
Nick spit, “fuck!” to remind himself of where
we almost were. Me, I didn’t care where
we were, only where we were going
in that long red truck. At eighteen, flames
were finer than fucking. On scene, house burning
down to bone. I humped hose up stairs, gear heavy
as a body, breath hot kisses against the mask.
Hands and knees stigmata warm against wood,
sheets of heat torched derma to flush, flamed something
deep in the structure of center. At eighteen,
I could extinguish. Now I know how to ignite.
Fire tetrahedron of the senses:
oxygen, heat, fuel, chemical reaction.
Anything will learn to burn given
air and time and flammable liquid.
Now, you like the way I light thin wick
of candles before you come, watch when I strike
fingers to match your kindle. This sizzle
is true as it gets with you. Here is my secret:
It is better without you. Me on my knees,
one hand to center, one to candle, press and press,
heat and heat, and the burn the burn this burn.
© 2007 Shanna Germain
previously published in Coming Together: Under Fire
1) What first sparked this poem?
I was a volunteer firefighter when I was in college, and I fell in love (and in lust) with the adrenaline, the excitement, the heat that came with fighting fires. I was barely 18, I was really just discovering my sexuality, and I was surrounded by all these fit, energetic men -- and yet, it was the fire that appealed more than any of them. I wanted to explore that idea, of what we find arousing and why.
2) Tell us about this poem's life.
Typically, I write poems in one sitting and then go back and revise them once or twice. This poem, however, took forever for me to mold and shape. I started it when I was still fighting fires -- I knew what I wanted to touch on, but I didn't know how I wanted to say it. So I put it away. I just happened to find it about ten years later, long after I'd moved onto other things, which allowed the narrator to look back, just as I was doing so.
3) How long did it take to go from inspiration to published?
As soon as I finished it, and got the ending the way I liked it, I sent it out to Coming Together: Under Fire, an erotic anthology that donates all the proceeds to charity and it was accepted right away. Which, I have to admit, is typical for me when it comes to poetry. Usually poems get accepted on the first go-round or else it takes about six submissions before I get a yes.
4) Are you satisfied with the poem?
Well, I'm not sure I'm ever satisfied with a poem, but I am mostly with this one. It has the sensuality that I was aiming for, some elements of firefighting, as well as an exploration of growing as a young, sexual woman.
5) What in particular do you, the poet, like about this poem and why?
I like the way it became a story told to someone else, presumably a current boyfriend, and how the narrator tells much, but not all of her secrets. I'm a fan of the way she reveals the information at the end. I worked with the sounds here too, using a lot of 's' sounds to simulate the hiss of smoke and skin, and other sounds to emulate the crackle of fire and wood.