Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

The Word: Burn

The burn you burn when the covers are stripped, exposing you just as you are.

The burn you burn when people look everywhere but the burned girl screaming down the middle of the road, her hair on fire.

The burn you burn when the hand the touch the smile comes near.

The burn you burn when the book electrifies through your eyeballs, the painting melts right off the wall, the aria explodes in your chest like a chrysanthemum.

The burn you burn when the book is famous but stinks, the art’s a fraud, the singer’s just a box of cereal, to be sold and sold and sold.

The burn you burn when they tear down your  coffee house, the one where everyone went, with the great food and a bitchin’ patio, that had a no cell phone policy, all to build a few luxury condos.

The burn you burn when they don’t even build the condos, so there it sits, a vacant lot full of ailanthus and shame.

The burn you burn when flamenco guitars begin to play and weathered hands clap out the rhythm and a dignified old lady gets up to dance.

The burn you burn when they don’t let you merge.

The burn you burn when the review is bad.

The burn you burn when the teacher hates your kid.

The burn you burn when the ex writes a memoir.

The burn you burn when your mother doesn’t know you anymore.

The burn you burn when other people are touring the five clifftowns of Italy.

The burn you burn at a party when you stand by the food and nobody talks to you.

The burn you burn when the letter finally says Yes. You read it twice before it bursts into flame.

The burn you burn when the Muse whispers her secrets into your ear.

The burn you burn dancing at a cousin’s wedding, amazed you still remember how to Pony, Slide, Slauson.

The burn you burn for the skyline of Manhattan.

The burn you burn watching Leonard Cohen fall to his knees.

The burn you burn hearing Patti Smith sing Gloria.

The burn you burn for the rice terraces of Bali.

The burn you burn for the boy with the tanned face and laughter in his eyes.

The burn you burn leaving school in the middle of the day. You vow your whole life will be like that, that kind of freedom.

The burn you burn sitting in front of Victoria Station with all your bags and nobody’s there to greet you.

The burn you burn when your husband walks six feet in front of you all through what turns out to be your last vacation together.

The burn you burn when your daughter doesn’t like the sad horse stories you’ve saved up for thirty years to someday show a daughter.

The burns you burn

Since you were born.

For life.

For art.

For love.

For freedom.

For approval and awards and roses and applause.

For your own voice to be heard, no matter what.

For embraces for sex for beauty for transcendence.


Always burning.

There are religions about removing those fires.

They see it as freedom.

All that suffering, that rage, that ecstasy.

Wouldn’t we be better off without?

But human life is combustion.

Here is my prayer:

Let me burn until my fires all go out.

Let me burn until I can burn no more.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories–and poems!–based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word is: SHOOT


7 Responses to “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright”

  1. Thank You Janet for this post. This poem saved me from getting deeper in dark memories. Email about Your poem came to my phone a moment ago. It’s nearly 11pm in Europe. Ten years ago, at the same time I ran away from home and I knocked on a door of one of first foster care institutions to get help. I should be happy, but my grandfather left with the end of the summer. he was the only in the family who tried to protect me from the woman claiming that she is my mother. He was an air force pilot and an engineer. but also alcoholic. Those last ten years I didn’t get enough chance to see him. So I feel guilty, and submerged with the loads of problems that I’m not able to fix. Similar to those from Your poem. And the first thought after reading it was – buckle up, it’s only going to be harder and You can’t afford another depression. not right now.

    Thank You Janet for Your email in 2009 and this poem. Even after all those years Your words, Your writing is my compass. I have few unfinished emails for You. I hope I will have a courage to send them one day to You.

    You saved my life. And last year I got a chance to save someone’s life too – thanks to You.

    I would be happy to read more of Your poems.

    Thank You and sorry for a super long comment.


  2. Thank you, Janet, for your words, and your commitment to them. They scald, every time.

  3. Blue Monday

    “Now this should do it,” Jackie thought as she peeled back the label and broke the seal on a half pint bottle of blue label vodka. She glanced at the label which read in tiny letters near the bottom, “100 proof.” “Mmm,“ she purred before throwing her head back and pouring a sizable swig down her throat. “Oh yes,” she thought “this is just the thing that’s going to grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” “Those AA meetings aren’t cutting it.” Bunch of boring alcoholics sitting around talking about how grateful they are to be sober. Gratitude isn’t all it’s cracked up to be she thought. Besides, she wasn’t like the rest of them. They were old, crabby, drove drunk and got arrested.” Jackie, hadn’t been arrested since her teen years for drinking at the local park with her then boyfriend Sam after curfew. No curfew now. She was 23 and feeling like she was ready to cut lose and fly.
    Reflecting back to the days earlier events that lead up to this point, Jackie heard herself mumble aloud “That stupid asshole, firing me for showing up 10 minutes late.” He and those dumb proposals he always asks me to type.” There was a waste paper basket next to Jackie’s keyboard and it was filled with crumpled up proposals. No matter how she tried, Jackie was a lousy typist, and despite having correction fluid in every color and auto correct, her proposals ended up looking more like a toddler’s painting than anything that would serve in the professional business world.
    Jackie looked across the parking lot at the neon lit sign that read, “Aladdin Las Vegas Revue.” “ Monday night amateur dance contest.”
    “One more swig and off we go!” Jackie wondered why she had to drink to feel like she had imagined normal people felt. She dismissed the thought just quickly as she emptied the bottle breathing a loud, hefty sigh. When Jackie was young, she and her little sister would sit at their kitchen table, remove their t-shirts and drink down shots of apple juice pretending to be cowboys drinking whiskey. Let’s play big man, she’d say! After reminiscing for a moment, she decided she was the big man now. Then there was the time she studied Sigmund Freud in psych class, and something about the oral stage of development. Mother’s Milk she thought, “This is my baby bottle.” I need a baby bottle.” I should have stayed in school and gotten a real skill or a degree instead of these endless, meaningless jobs, one after another. I pretty much suck at everything!”
    Shortly thereafter, Jackie felt that much anticipated numb sparkle and she was ready to share it with the world! She slid out of her car and slammed the door a little harder than she expected to. She watched herself walk toward the club but felt like someone else was walking for her. The ground felt a little lopsided, she thought. Pick up legs, move body, go talk to people.
    She walked confidently into the club, through a velvet curtain and into a what looked to her like wonderful cartoon world of colored lights and tinsel. Show girls were busily carrying exotic looking cocktail trays with umbrellas and cherries and olives that floated majestically at the bottom of a martini glasses. Ravenous carnival like men ogled her as she walked by and this made her feel important and a little nervous. She wanted to look like she fit in after all. While glancing across this decorated cave, Jackie saw some young women waiting in line near a DJ booth. OK this must be where we sign up. Sizing up the other girls in line, she grew steadily more determined, “wow, she’s pretty, looks like stiff competition.” Then there were other’s hmmm, not so much. I can take her!
    A woman who looked to be in charge, patrolled next to the line of hopeful contestants and inspected them one by one. She begin stating the rules aloud to the girls as she examined them carefully. She said she had to make sure no hair was sticking out from anyone’s g strings. The girls all had to wear sparkled pasties, Band-Aids or sticky tape covering their nipples because the club served alcohol and those were the rules. If a club served alcohol, Girls had to have their nipples covered and wear g-strings. “So you see girls, this is a semi-nude review.”
    Jackie watched some of the other girls dance on stage. She felt a wondrous mixture of excitement and dread. A girl named Excelsia, pale, tall hauntingly thin, tauntingly floated by the men around the stage, smiling and dragging a thin sheer veil across her somewhat small, sparkle covered breasts, exposing her creamy white stomach and thighs. This atmosphere had an almost dreamlike hypnotic to quality to Jackie who was growing increasingly anxious to get up to dance. She was somewhat concerned that if she did not dance soon, she might panic and run out of the club.
    At last, she heard her music cue and she could hardly contain herself. Zeppelin’s Whole lotta love echoed and filled the room. Jackie insides felt like they were exploding and felt compelled to show her enthusiasm to the crowd. Maybe she’d do a hand spring, climb the pole, swing upside down like she had seen in movies.
    For a moment her body moved as though someone else was dancing, actually there were a few seconds where she couldn’t feel her body at all but instead was viewing it through someone else’s eyes.
    Feeling an extra boost of confidence, Jackie grabbed a chair that was sitting near the back of the stage. It seemed like a good idea to do something cabaret like. The chair was heavier than she expected it to be and to her dismay, it toppled over on its side making a loud clumsy bang as it hit the stage floor mockingly. Jackie grinned and felt a her face flush but decided the show had to go on and so she picked up the chair and attempted to sit sideways on it, do a back bend while kicking her leg up to strike an enticing pose. Unfortunately, she was beginning to feel dizzy and her body felt heavy and she could scarcely bring herself to an upright position. Somehow this wasn’t working out quite the way she’d envisioned. Still the crowd clapped and made grunting noises of approval, so all was well after all she surmised.
    She saw men sitting around the stage at her feet, looking up at her, smiling whispering, laying down dollar bills on the stage floor, even fives and a twenty. At last she thought, “this is where I belong!” Suddenly out of the corner of her eye, she noticed one man sitting near the foot of the stage wasn’t looking at her at all. In fact, he had his back to her. She tried to get his attention by stomping her heals on the stage near where he sat. “What the hell is he doing, rude bastard is ignoring me! Jackie leered at the man suspiciously when she noticed he had a pack of matches and was lighting them one after another. Then he would just sit and watch them burn. “He must be one of those creeps who secretly hates women and gets off by burning things.” Jackie felt extremely annoyed and fantasized spinning around the pole and kicking the man in the head. The more she thought about it, the more enticing the idea became. Suddenly all her focus was on the man burning things and not on the contest. She felt she needed to put a stop to this. Jackie decided she would perform a cartwheel and land crashing her feet down right in front of him. “This will teach him whose boss.” She really needed to feel like she was in charge and Mr. Burn things was undermining her efforts. She summoned all of her strength, for the room was beginning to spin. She was overcome with heat and suddenly felt quite nauseous. One , two, three, Jackie begin the cartwheel only instead of landing in front of Pyro man, she kept going and flew right over the stage rail and landed promptly on the floor next to him. She was unable to breathe for a moment, for the fall knocked the wind out of her and although she was in a considerable amount of pain, embarrassment and pride motivated her to continue dancing. She heard the audience make a collective gasp. Someone said, “should we call an ambulance.” Jackie quickly jumped up dusted herself off and climbed back up on the stage only by then her music had ended and she stood for a moment in a sobering silence. Surprisingly she heard herself yell out to the audience, “you see you get right back on the horse.” The audience somewhat reluctantly applauded and Jackie bowed and made her exit leaving the strange man behind to burn things.

  4. Carmelo Says:

    I love this. It’s so refreshing when authors mix genres and come up with something so lovely.

    And stanza five reminded me of what the Coffee Table (Silverlake) used to be like, before it became ugly condos.



  5. Beautiful writing. Thanks for sharing something so revealing. Never easy to do and always beautiful when done.

  6. Carla McGill Says:

    I love this, Janet! I just finished grading 46 essays, and then had the reward of reading this, so I feel revived. Patti Smith’s Gloria, yes and yes.

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