Imagine fire.
Fire that glows hot, yellow-red
An ocean of fire. A forest of fire.
Flames so beautiful you can hear them
Cry your name
like the ghosts of children begging you to play.
Wake up, they whisper. Wake up.

One day you wake up.
Outside it looks like day, even though it's only 2 a.m.

It was Mischief Night. 1980. New Jersey.
I was ten.

I always loved opening my curtains
On the morning of Halloween.
It was like waking up to the remnants of an all-night fiesta.

Toilet paper on every branch
flapping like party streamers,
like crazed voyagers on a cruise ship waving farewell.
Car windows christened with soap and shaving cream.

When the flames came, I was
still stirring from the kind of dream
you never quite have again after the year you turn ten.
A dream of spinning around in a Snow White costume,
the sticky, clay taste of lipstick on my lips,
juicy blistered feet,
pillow sacks full of B-B bats and Mary Janes
and Pixie Sticks.

So when my mother screamed and
My father shouted, "The trees are on fire!"
I thought we must have been talking to each other in our sleep.

The entire line of pine trees around our house
a brilliant blaze.
From the street we watched flames lick the sky.

Black spray paint on the garage door spelled out:
"Go home, Chinks. Go back to China."

But I've never even been to China, I thought.

My mother stood quiet and pale with her hands on her thin hips,
Thin as the grass on the neighbor's lawn felt
wet and cold.

I remember thinking to myself,
"This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

I remember the smell of crackling pine needles.
And the rhythm of a shovel and my father's breath
Beating back the fire.

When it was over we lost three trees and the bottom half of four.

When it was over, our house remained forever exposed.
Naked from the waist down.

When it was over, I could never sleep in late again.
Now the morning sun streamed through my window
where the trees once stood.

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