“They say the city of Rome
burned for six days and seven nights
while its emperor played the fiddle.
In my head, I call him ‘the Arsonist’.
He sets fire to the parts of me that are all wilderness,
all California dry bush. I don’t know how to tell him
I’ve stopped writing my poems down — all my words
about love just burn holes through the pages.
He hums in my ear and the heat of his breath
reduces me to kindling, to something
that sparks and ignites; I am sawdust,
I am a city full of libraries.
Thousands of books and scrolls
to keep me burning through the night.
I wasn't always so flammable
but I suppose it’s something about his hands.
One part of me wants them at my hips,
around my throat. The other smells smoke.
She is cracking windows open,
she’s looking for a fire escape,
she wants to run.
But the rest of me wants to stay.
Even if he douses my body in kerosene.
Even if he leaves the firemen sifting through
my ashes for evidence.
Rome is burning to the ground tonight
and I’m trapped behind its walls.”
— Anita Ofokansi, ”Boy Who Coaxes Flames Out of My Skin”