Dustin Pearson is an MFA candidate at Arizona State University, where he also serves as the editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. He was awarded the 2015 Katharine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Watering Hole, Cave Canem, and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Born in Charleston, he is from Summerville, SC.
The Flame in Mother’s Mouth
There’s a fire inside our mother’s mouth.
Every time she opens it, we throw wood in.
The flames moss
up the sides of her face.
Above her head make red-orange pigtails.
No matter how big they get, they won’t hang.
She holds on to them while she chases us.
With enough wood, the flames
come out her ears, down her nose.
Our mom is on fire and chasing us,
but doesn’t notice. We don’t get it.
In our mouths, the wood does nothing.
We keep throwing wood
until the house burns down.
We’ve lost everything when we tire
and let her catch up to us, wrap us
in her inferno. We roast. The debris floats
to the sky, freezes. Our house returns to us,
pepper ash between the flecks of snow.
The ice turns cold on us and we laugh.
We laugh over the glaze of things
that torch our skin black.
Our dog has a diamond face.
He’s a sweet, big-bodied dog.
A sturdy dog,
that loves us harder than any.
He’s a good boy. We thank God
he’s never gone missing,
that we’ve never struggled
for money, that we’ve always
had enough to eat.
We thank God for every karat
we haven’t counted on that face,
for when he licks
and reminds us.
We thank God one of us
will outlive him, that when
the flesh rots off his back
and leaves us his bones,
we’ll still remember that face
and where we buried it,
out back, with the rest of him.
Set in Sentiment
My dad’s parents live in an old house. I remember as a little boy. Mom’s parents are dead. The house is dark. The corners are black. Grandma and I bake cakes. She uses a recipe, and I help out. It’s our favorite thing to do. My uncle lives there, too. He has a room to himself. He brushes his teeth really hard. His teeth are so clean and golden. I hear him from the bedroom. Grandma and I play. She watches me run. She sits in her chair in pain. As a kid, I understand. She is dying. I don’t go back to grandma’s house for a while. Time changes. Cart wheels. Car wrecks. Then the family is a mess.
Grandma takes me to church. There’s a lady there with one leg who doesn’t say anything. Grandma tells me not to stare. Granddad can’t hear a damn thing. I want to play. The service is so long. He promised we’d play before going. Now he’s sleeping. His eyes are closed. He looks dead. He sleeps so much because he’s dying. It’s guaranteed. Next, he’ll be eating. Routine dictates. After dinner, I’ll be leaving. My grandparents move so slow and toward death.
Grandma keeps her necklaces in a box on the dresser. They are shiny and I want them until I steal them. She has so many. She doesn’t notice. She says they are out of style, that they will be back. She knows I like them. She gives me the necklace her mother gave her. I learn necklaces like that one aren’t worth much of anything. There’s something about the sentiment. The sentiment is what I lose in some classroom around the 1st grade. Her house burns down. All that sentiment and so fast, burning, then dead. The dying. My grandparents have been all these years. I caught them at the wrong time. They make me anxious. They’ve had such a long wait.