The Burning Girl

While the tennis ball went back and forth in time
A girl was burning. While the tonic took its greeny
Acid lime, a girl was burning. While the ruby sun fell
From a cloud’s bent claws and Wimbledon was won
And lost, we sprawled along the shore in chairs,
We breathed the azure airs alongside
A girl with the thinnest arms all scarred and scored
With marks she’d made herself —
She sat with us in flames
That not all saw or saw but couldn’t say at risk
Of seeming impolite. And later we’d all think
Of the monk who’d doused himself with gas,
Lit a match, then sat unmoving and alert amid
Devouring light. She didn’t speak. She touched
No aspect of our silly selves.
I was the awkward guest everybody hardly knew.
She was an almost ghost her mother saw
Erasing the edges of herself each day
Smudging the lines like charcoal while her parents
Redrew her secretly into being over and
Again each night and dawn and sleepless
All years long. Having seen that mother’s love,
I testify: It was ocean endless. One drop could’ve
Brought to life the deadest Christ, and she
Emptied herself into that blazing child with all her might
And stared a hundred million miles into
The girl’s slender, dwindling shape.
Her father was the devoted king of helicopter pad
And putting green. His baby burned as we
All watched in disbelief.
I was the facile friend of friends insisting on a hug
Who hadn’t been along for years of doctors, wards,
And protocols. I forced her sadness close. I said
C’mon let’s hug it out. Her arms were white
Birch twigs that scissored stiffly at my neck till she
Slid on. That night we watched
Some fireworks on the dewy lawn for it was
Independence Day. Soon after, she was gone.
She was the flaming tower we all dared

To jump from. So she burned.

More Poems by Mary Karr