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Where I Came From

by Mark Melnicove

The old neighborhood is burning down, the lawns awash
            in oranges and reds.
I have come running

back to save our house. My mother is lounging in
            the kitchen, filing her nails.
“Relax,” she tells me,

“The fire chief called, says this is the new normal.” I cannot
            believe she is not hysterical.
I shake her,

but she does not move; she is only a shell, alive for the sake
            of appearances.
I grab what can be saved—a piano leg—

but it crumbles in a crescendo of sharps and flats.
I want my sister to give up the phone; what gossip
            could trump this? But she will not budge.

Down cellar, my brother is beating the heck out
            of a punching bag; at least it is not my face;
and when I locate my father,

he is plastered to the liquor cabinet, where he is
            using the tip of a lit cigar to ignite the bourbon.
Just when all feels lost,

the fire department volunteers show up in shiny,
            red corvettes, gather in a circle around
            the crumbling frame of the house, and piss

on the charcoal timbers, laughing as they tell dirty jokes
            about some hot chick on the block they wish
            they were inside instead.

I scream for them to stop, but they do not hear; I beat
            on their heads, but they are all smoke.
In a final burst,

as if from out of the Milky Way, hot coals
            rain down into my hands—
little beating hearts

separated from those who love them.
I want to carry them far, far away to where I came from
            before I was born.


A 45-year retrospective of Mark Melnicove’s work in publishing and writing, “Word Art Collaborations,” was exhibited in 2015 at Bowdoin College. In 2017, Two Palms Press published Sometimes times, a call and response between his poems and Terry Winters’s prints. He teaches creative writing and permaculture at Falmouth High School in Falmouth, Maine. (4/2017)

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