for X and the Origin of Fires by Ander Monson
A brother, radio, a winter full of snow and thoughts on Liz my X.
A clarinet melody line impressed in wax found in a sleeve above
the mantle. Dad's Benny Goodman.
A foot going through a rotting wood deck. All the way up to the groin.
A moving, morbid feeling.
A separation of the bone. Kidnapping of those bones for some dark
purpose. Graverobbing from those still alive. A need for marrow.
Understanding. Surgeon skill surgeon. Muddy waters of the Sturgeon
River. Holding fish. How you have to wear long rubber boots to get in
there. And what you get back out.
Absence. Anger at mine or hers. Ascertain. A way around.
--- Dear, this series patters, is a pattern
Alibi and alias.
Always goes without.
Amalgamation. Accumulation. What comes down in time accretes.
An anecdote: I'd destroy any matchbox cars my dad got for me.
Pretend they were the bomb squad and take the hammer to them. Then
put them in a can and bury them when I had enough. Ask my dad for
more. He'd hold my hand when we went to the store to pick them out.
The wax on the floor glistened. Did he hold my brother's hand. Was
there a hand to hold.
An anecdote, reconstructed: after prom with Liz-after prom with
Liz with streamers in their pockets. Streamers torn down from the new
school gym, mementos of the dance. Liz and Jesse as friends, not
dates. On their way out to Gay, Michigan, where the after-party was.
Saw something in the road. Not drinking, talking. Listening to Cowboy
Junkies. Some light in the car from those they passed. Still ice on
the ground of course up here in Spring. More light leaking out from
the fluorescence on his watch as he checks it because his Toyota's
clock does not work. He slides the sunroof open so Liz can see the
moon, so she can be happy. Cigarette light in passing cars.
Dashboard's low emissions. Starlight: very old. An occasional
streetlamp or jack-o-lantern out of season on a porch. Candles lit
inside. A premonition of fire, upcoming accident.
An eye for the crucial bit of evidence.
Another, later incident: Crisco's sister. And all that went with that.
Any fragment is an art an artifact. Is an echo of the whole. Is an
echo; is the whole.
Any kind of solace.
Any kind of story.
Anything you give me I will take.
Anything you want to tell me.
--- Vapor dear, I am coasting out, a satellite
At the after-party, Crisco drinking a half-liter of antifreeze.
Crisco not realizing it wasn't Kool-Aid. Antifreeze tasting sweet. He
being drunk. Then the Emergency Room and stomach-pump. What could we
say or do as balm or blame.
age of stains
as embedded in eyes
as evidence, insufficient or sufficient
as representative of ego
as representative of teeth
collection, for alcohol analysis
copper content of
crystal tests for
distinction of source
loss of, and desperation
omission of evidence in order to conceal crimes
removal of by aggravated washing
removal of by amputation
removal of by any necessary means
removal of by "Out! Out! Damned Spot"
removal of in order to sleep again
removal of in order to dream of smashing glass again
species origin of
spectroscopic tests for
Bluebells clustered around a telephone pole. The telephone pole
adjoined by a junction box. The box opened and all the connections
numbered and labeled inside, though not with names or phone
Brother, a hoot and a bother
relation to danger
to Sault Ste. Marie
to true events
truth in telling
wanting things for
X, relationship to
Burn circle in the field out back past the garden.
Caliber of firearms.
Camera, lens & shutter speed.
Camera, types of
Casts and replicas, equipment for
Charred material, collection of.
Chloral hydrate as poison.
Christer, who also had a brother.
Cigarette and tumbler. Snub-nose .38 and hat. Some irony. Some egg.
Cloud formations in the sky remind me of when I was young and we'd
move from state to state. On vacation. Everything was liquid then,
Conversation snippets. Cans tied with string and hung from the
Crime begins at home: vandalism; minor breaking and entering;
subverting phones. Pirate broadcasting. Shoplifting. Setting traps.
Crisco being rushed to the emergency room. Where vomiting would be
induced. Where a stomach would be pumped. What if that was a passive
Crisco named for his greasy hair.
Crisco's sister who used to babysit me when I was younger. Who was
raped and stabbed and raped. Who died. Whose loss meant a what began
as a germ in the body. My absence at her funeral. Crisco my friend. I
am sorry but I couldn't take it.
Defenses: madness, rage, or self-defense. Also innocence.
Density, of glass
Did he have his arms back then.
Direction of break of glass.
Dispersion, of glass. Of staining.
Distance of firing shot
Pattern of damage
Distrust of social function. Distrust of prom.
Distrust your client. She will mislead you.
Does it glisten under light.
Does it have a pattern to it.
Does it have an equal and opposite reaction.
Does it move at all.
Does it move like blood in crevasses
in the linoleum seams
Doll heads bought from hobby stores and pushed down into grass.
Sometimes I come upon them on our property when I sit down, tired
from running through the pines.
--- Dear, distance is a hush a shush a glass of milk delivered
through ether like a dose
Dream, dreamer, dreaming.
Electronic analysis and data processing.
Electronic reconstruction of a life.
of a heart bowing under pressure
of a heartbeat
of a person through the ice
of vocal modulations
Electrons clustered around a heart.
Elegies for everyone.
--- Dear, does this whispered reassurance come too late
End suggests a means. Some cause. Abuse?
Energy dissipation in vehicular accidents.
Erasure, restoration of.
Ethyl alcohol as poison. As intoxication.
Evidence, collection of
--- Distance is a duffel bag filled with onions that you must carry
Father's voice on the tape though it's unclear what he's saying.
Sounds like he's talking to the radio or to the night. Whichever
Film: an answer-the movie Dead Kids 2 that Liz made in response to
the original Dead Kids which takes place at some small Midwestern
college and is dull and old and long. Me on film: a steak knife in my
hand, serrated blade to throat. Did this happen or did it not.
Fire, determining origin of.
Firing pin impressions.
Footprints of my brother and I in concrete at the farmhouse which
now is sold to someone else who got rid of the dog we left with them.
Glass, specific gravity of
Backward fragmentation of
Radial cracks in
Handwriting, primary factors in.
Handwriting, systems of.
Heliotropes pivot to find light.
His clarinet up in the attic with all the radios. Its case very
like a coffin.
How to choose what to hit: Suppose you are going 50 mph on a
2-lane road. Here comes a car toward you-and now, in your own lane, a
second car passing it. One is filled with eyes. And one with salt and
returnable cans. Two cars are racing toward you-you have to leave the
road. Suppose that you had to choose hitting one of the following
objects. Which is the safest one to hit?
a. a large tree
b. a bridge abutment
c. utility pole
d. a large boulder
--- Dear, distance is the distillation of motion from emotion
Icelight. Pulsing buoys on the lake. Snowmobilers' headlights in
the ditches, pitching wildly.
Identify with me.
Identify with me: my brother's lost his arms. Everyone who sees
him asks However Did That Happen? And me dumb with nothing in mouth
extracted from the body
iron gallotannate in
left from love
made from squid
stains left behind from
Instead of analyzing evidence.
Iodine as poison.
Is a hibernating heart.
--- Dear, this is coming to a sun a sum
Is bomblight over snow.
Is bombsong ricocheting through the air like radio or signals of
Is cutting the bark away from trees.
Is descending like the last few maple keys in the first snowstorm
of the year. Is out of place.
Is in the shape of a halo. Means something else though.
Is light through snow as seen from underneath as beautiful as I
Is serious stuff.
Is without a hat.
Italian Hall Disaster in Calumet, Michigan, 1908.
Jesse, hoarder of Atari games.
Jesse through the ice. All this you know. Plus the others who had
Jesse through the ice. Crisco's sister. My brother, the sleuth
Jesse who had lost his index finger and thumb in a bomb-making
accident a year before.
Jesse who would drive with just his knee if you were in the car.
Jesse whom I cared for.
Keeping your balance, importance of.
Lead as poison.
Lever action rifles.
Like looking through a keyhole in a world with no keys.
Like looking through a keyhole into a bathroom with a cast iron
tub and steam in the air.
Like looking through a pinhole.
Likes to feel the punishment of rain pinpricks on scalp.
Liz and Jesse.
Liz and Jesse as friends.
Liz, dream obits for.
Liz, dreams of, continued for years after her death.
Liz my obfuscation.
Liz my poultice my plagiarist. Slow-mo replay Liz.
Liz my scrim my gauze pad hand wrap. Liz my char, chiaroscuro.
Liz my X.
Liz my X my only X.
--- Dear, this is where the pressure is the plainest
Liz my unknown quotient, my lonely roamer. Liz my rune.
Liz not my Y or Z, not a nor c, but X and X alone. Liz my mark my
spot. Liz my crux, my cross, my crossing guard, my crease my pall my
greased ball bearing bearer.
Liz, still life under ice.
Liz who I had wanted for a long time.
Liz with Jesse there at prom.
Liz with Jesse there at prom as friends only, I tell myself.
Liz with me.
Liz with me in dreams in aquamarine.
--- Dear, this is not meant as maze
Magnifying glasses used to concentrate sun, to burn my name in
wood, to give the smolder to some bug.
Matches, used in starting fires.
Medulla of hair.
Memory: a blue mixing bowl filled with deveined shrimp my mother
left behind. I am five. I eat the whole thing in the sun on the
picnic table which is made of rough wood. I try to relate this to my
dad, but he says it didn't happen.
Mercury, as fleet-foot god
as quick-change artist
Microscopic evidence, value of.
Minicameras. Fake books in which I'd keep French-to-English
Motion pictures. Light on screens is meaning.
My brother says nothing in the face of some action, some event, a
what and how.
My brother's diary which I will not read. How does he keep it you
will ask. He holds a pen between his teeth. Steadies with his lips.
He's worn a mark there that shows when he smiles. Dad buys these
tools for him.
My brother's hair is gold like straw and sunshine. Some honey
looks like it. Being out all day in sun.
My fascination with crime: novels, hard-boiled detective
thrillers, mail-order private dick kits, badges to pass myself as a
seamus. The Hardy Boys. Even Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey twins.
Ellroy. Chandler. Leonard. Shadow figures on a wall.
My friend Jesse.
My friend Jesse going into the lake in his car.
My friend Jesse in that great and gleaming thing, just washed in
summer when we'd go to Canyon Falls with friends to jump into the
--- Dear, this is a hole a filling-in
Nitrates in gunshot residues.
No arms protruding from his body in the traditional way.
It means black
Nouns, problems with.
Nylon in textiles.
Nylon stockings, Liz's, mother's, future obsession with.
--- Dear this is a star a stair an escalator up
Obliteration of documents.
Origin of fires. Firespring: gasoline and glitter, fuselage and fuel.
--- Dear, this distance is a balding scalp, a bridge, a deadened
nerve, long-distance dedication, a sort of stroke and reassurance
Paper identification methods.
Paper, marks upon.
Phenomenon of deceleration comes into operation when a car has to
leave the road and heave its hit into a pole or a row of shrubbery or
a picked-out blackberry patch, a picket fence with tiny doll heads on
pikes epoxied on the tips of each stave-top. Your father died today,
you tell the stewardess on the plane to elicit sympathy, peanuts,
cheap brandy, gum, and kisses. Since then your dreams have each been
glass heads that end in slivers across rug-clad floors. It is safer
to be strapped in a plane, inclined up into clouds that coat the
fuselage with ice crystals that glitter in the sun. What is a
smash-up but a scattering of seeds across vinyl seat and open window.
The engineers and accident-experts familiar with how much difference
it makes to decelerate instead of to stop abruptly are nonetheless
surprised by how well this works.
Photographs, distortion in.
Photographs of ice holes clipped from the paper. Everything goes
down to the bottom of the lake: Christmas trees after the holiday.
Cans. Glass. The occasional car or body. Snowmobiles. Stampsand
leftover from processing iron ore.
Pigment, in hair. In paints.
Playing Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself."
for high-school dropping out
for mental illness
for typing-class breakdown flip-out
for wonderful recovery or action
--- Dear, my dot and line, my meant and mint, my meal and morning moan
--- Dear this is a sieve discarded in a river
Radial cracks in glass.
as a metaphor
as a method of communication
how it's shot right through us all the time
Red birds in the sky at sunset. Or are they bats? And why do they
wheel like that like they're going to bomb the sun?
Remainders after long division.
Remembered evening with Liz that went so badly.
River delta means spread and source.
River means of course the Mississippi.
River means Sturgeon also, means wading in up to your waist. Means
smelting in the early morning light.
Rock Tumbler. Fingerprinting kit. Cash counterfeiter. Fake books
that are safes. Rocks that hide keys. Magnets stuck to the bottoms of
cars. FM-wavelength bugs. Penlights.
--- Dear, this is a tributary
methods of attacking
Scene: old paper sacks with stacks of papers. A box of tampons.
Search, of crime scene
Secondary electron radiation.
See how it was like back then.
over and over
Sequence of folds
Silk. Skidding distance.
Smoke, around bullet holes.
Smoke, significance in fire investigation.
--- Dear, everything has a source if you can find it, some point of
Test tubes filled with rust; polished copper fragments; tape with
bits of dialogue; floorboard, box of Raisinets.
Thallium as poison.
The female lead: absent curve of shoulder into neck. Absent bit of Liz.
The principles of criminal investigation suggest a how rather than
The whole hill is riddled through with mines. Quincy Mine has 96
levels. Water has stoppered up the earth to the 6th level, which you
can still go in and tour.
This is algebra. A way of understanding.
This is what this is about. This is a grain. A Sliver. Center.
Though it's warm out now I think of winter. Feel like being kept
inside by weather.
To put my name in char. To tattoo it all on anything with an arm
to take it.
Tools and how to use them. This is a story told by men and taught
to men. This is not a critique of that, exactly.
Traffic reports of accident deaths on the radio and in the papers
and on the nightly news that comes in two languages often carry the
phrase "collided with a fixed object." A large tree, an abutment, an
ice gap. A boulder, a stray break-up phrase, a wiretap, a brick house
with a telephone line creeping down the back-that is what is meant by
"fixed object," and next to a head-on collision it presents the
greatest peril to a moving car.
Trajectory of any car on any road.
Trajectory of bullet.
Trajectory of car with Liz and Jesse
in the moment of impact
still life with
that car was blessed with the premonition of the crash before
they left the house
before they knew me or were born
Trophy buck heads nailed onto wood. Mr. Kurtz. Men's heads on
pikes. Doll heads just bought from stores in bags.
Twist of rifling.
--- Dear, I'm sorry this could not be more
--- Dear, this is a door
Volatile solvent, ignition of.
What if Jesse swerved to avoid a fish wrapped in paper on the road.
What if Jesse swerved to slide a hand below the lining of a dress.
What if, Jesse.
What if Liz had her hand on the radio dial that was barely lit.
What if Liz was turning up "Blue Moon, Revisited" by the Cowboy
Junkies. What if she liked what she found dark and there. What if she
was looking up at the nude moon in the sky.
What if, Liz.
What if they were found that way.
What if we.
What if we could solve this song for X.
What if X.
What is a brother without arms.
What is a crane called in to pull to winch to haul out a car from
What is a lock of hair in a hand. This is the truth right here-I
clipped a lock of Liz's hair after she and Jesse had been pulled from
the lake. Is this sick. It was new. Still in motion. I was on the
scene. I knew the undertaker. I knew there was an answer. Some way to
possess her sliver, some heart some part of her.
What is a night before Christmas when the kids are downstairs and
everything is quiet, unbroken like the surface of a lake.
What is a remembrance of the body.
What is a way of saying a thing. What is a good reason.
What is a witness to a snowmobile on open water then going through.
What is air blast and mine collapse.
What is all this coming to. What is a seed. What is a mint or mint
What is always.
What is always going.
What is always going to the emergency room.
What is an end to question. What is lit. What is unlit. What is
cut. What is uncut. What can be split, and what cannot.
What is an obsession.
What is ankle bracelet. What is bra and garter and tether and
What is apex, apogee.
What is awful, actual, sad.
What is blame but expulsion. What is excommunication, the ritual
deporting of the heart to Canada.
What is candlelight (only a little) between friends.
What is closer than they appear. What objects are in mirrors.
What is cost. What is a coast, so far from home, preamble to the
ocean that you've never seen.
What is economics.
What is electrons spinning around a nucleus.
What is elicited in confession.
What is else. What is watching reporters on the scene. Flashbulbs.
What is the usual story in the paper.
What is ex is X.
What is excised, exorcised. What sometimes gets excited.
What is gasoline on stop-sign light.
What is gloss on lip. What is an invitation for a kiss.
What is hair scent left in a baseball hat.
What is his. Is theirs. Is hers. Is ours. Is echo and again.
What is if.
What is just a word. Word and worm. Men and end. Lime and sparkler
What is left.
What is lens is lesser. Is __________. Is excised, is at least.
What is less than fire.
What is less than fire is less than X.
What is less than fire is more than I can take or speak.
What is life beneath the ice.
What is light leaked all over the new water when the ice recedes.
What is made of fire. What is burn in air. What is stop and drop
and roll. What is
a telephone reduced to slag in a blaze. What is an accelerant.
What is magnesium lit in air.
What is motion.
What is motivation. What is mine. And what is in the mine.
What is nape of neck. What is strand of hair. What catches bits of
headlight light as we pass by cars. What is condensation on the
inside of eyeglass glass.
What is nightlight glistening on skin.
What is not. Is black on white. Is etch and mark and mar.
What is not so clear. What is circumspect.
What is obliterated.
What is oil spread along the tanned blade of a shoulder.
What is on a stretcher cruising in the moonlight towards the
What is one winter defined by barn collapse and 290 accumulated
inches of snow.
What is pale is fire and cannot be safely touched.
What is punishment.
What is rear view mirror.
What is relapse.
What is sawdust, converted into a tower of flame.
What is sawdust dropped from the third floor stairwell and lit
from the bottom.
What is seven wounds on a chest.
What is short but bright.
What is simple is regret is lack of act.
What is terrified eyelid light.
What is the origin of all fires.
What is the outline of an angel made in snow.
What is the voice of dogs in night. Or the reverse, too, I suppose.
What is there to do. What is there. What is there anyway to say or see.
What is this is hers.
What is this is hers is here on the page.
What is tracks through snowbank leading to the lake.
What is unanswered.
What is what always would have meant.
What is white on white.
What is wrong.
What is X an anodyne a coin.
What is yours as much.
What yes would have meant to me.
What you've heard enough about by now.
Who is a good question. Funny it's only being asked once, here.
Why is it that I need to know.
Why this is important.
Writing, age of
--- Dear, this is a mouth, a month, a moth emerging from, a cloth
across the brow, a going-North
X as concatenation & conflation.
X as brother.
X as father.
X as loner. X as lover.
X as mother, myth.
X as queen Liz. As previously established.
X as token. Torn coat or turncoat.
X as unknown.
X, necessity of herein.
X, used in algebra.
X, used safely to recover memory.
Yes. And yes.
Yes they caught him the guy who ended Crisco's sister. What did
that mean or help. What good could come from that. What is a good.
You can trade it on a black or darker market. Again, what
You'd think the mines that go all throughout the hill would weaken it.
--- Dear, this distance is now all I have, a wine-dark sea, a solo
moan, a haunting
all over the back seat
in bottom of car underneath the dash
mixed in with glass
worn like a necklace
worn like a totem
--- Dear, I hope that it is enough