more the idea of the flame than the flame,
as in: the flame

of the rose petal, the flame of the thorn
the sun is a flame, the dog’s teeth



to be clear: with the body,

captain, we can do as we wish, we can do
as we wish with the body

but we cannot leave marks—capt’n I’m
trying to get this right


the world’s so small, the sky’s so high
we pray for rain it rains, we pray for sun it suns

we pray on our knees, we move our lips
we pray in our minds, we clasp our hands

our hands look tied before us


I remember, capt’n, something, it didn’t happen, not
to me—this guy, I knew him by

face, I don’t remember his
name, one night
he’s walking home from a party, a car it

clipped him, for hours he
wandered, dazed, his family, his
neighbors, with flashlights they

searched, all night, the woods, calling out
his name


here’s the part, capt’n, where I try to tell a story
as if it were a confession: once,

in elementary school, I was hiding out
on damon rock, lighting
matches & letting them drop to the leaves

below—little flare-

ups, flash fires—a girl wandered
down the path, she just

stood there, watching the matches fall from my hand—


capt’n, I’m trying to be precise: hot

day, a cage in the sun, a room without
air, the mind-bending heat, the music

a flame—hey
metallica hey britanny hey airless hey fuse, I

don’t know how it happened, I was perched far
above, I offered her a match

to pull down her pants—one match, her
hairless body, hey

little girl, I dropped it unlit.   

I didn’t know what it was I was looking at.


hey capt’n I don’t know if I’m allowed
hey capt’n years ago I’m walking

down a road one drunk night, even now I
wonder—sometimes still I

imagine—was I hit by a bus, am I stumbling am I   

dazed, this

dream this confession, hey
little girl is yr daddy home, hey capt’n hey

sir am I making any sense?


the boy stood on the burning deck, stammering
elocution, wait—
the boy stood in the burning cage, stammering
electrocution, no—the boy stood in the hot-hot room
stammering I did stammering I did stammering I
did stammering I did stammering everything you say I did
I did.


hey metallica hey britanny hey airless hey fuse
hey phonograph hey hades hey thoughtless hey


capt’n this room is on fire
capt’n, this body will not stop burning
capt’n oh my captain this burning has become a body
capt’n oh my captain this child is ash
capt’n oh my captain my hands pass right through her
capt’n oh my captain I don’t know what it is I’m looking at


it’s important to be precise, to say what
I know—

the sun is fire, the center of the earth
is fire, yr mother’s cunt is

fire, an airless flame, still, still, I don’t know why
she pushed me out, this cold-cold furnace, we all

were pushed, a rim of light around our heads, she
gave a kick, sent us crawling

out, toward the flame, toward the pit, the flaming
pit, yr lover’s
cunt, the flame her tongue, the flame

a thorn


everyday, capt’n, sir, captain, I was
left, a child, after school, I was alone, I found

a match, under the sink I found a can, a spray
can, ly-sol dis-infectant, it made a

torch, I was careful the flame didn’t
enter the can, I knew it

would explode, somehow I knew, I’m
trying to be clear sir—the flame

shot across the room, then it was gone

Used by permission of Nick Flynn.
Source: 2007
More Poems by Nick Flynn