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Trading Passions: Matches for Poetry by Sarah Bain

I first played with matches in the third grade. Ostensibly, I was trying to help my mom light candles, but I didn't really care about the candles as much as I did about lighting the match.

After that, I sat at the kitchen table and practiced—a lot—trying to strike the match just like they did in the movies, flicking it across the back of the matchbook and watching the flame ignite. I stared at it until the match burned down to my fingertips, and the heat touched me. Even though the flame lasted only a few seconds, I got lost in that orange glow as it sucked me into the center of the heat, holding me until the heat against my finger broke the reverie. But for that brief moment, I was transferred to a place I couldn’t reach any other way. When I blew out the match, the moment was gone until I lit another one.

Matchismo by Gitte Moller

"Matchismo"
by Gitte Moller


I bought my first cigarettes not long after discovering the joy of matches—well, they weren’t exactly Marlboros, but candy cigarettes. Remember those long white cylindrical sticks of candy with red tips on the ends? Back then, I thought that people who smoked were “cool,” and the closest thing I could get to smoking was with a pack of candy cigarettes. I knew I was cool every time my girlfriend and I “smoked” those. I even tried to light one once, but ended up burning my fingers as I chomped on the candy.

In high school, long after I gave up pretending to smoke candy cigarettes, the clove cigarette was the “in” thing. By the time my friends and I lit up in the bushes behind the school, I was a master with the match. I still remember the sweet taste of the cloves, the way I coughed every time I smoked, the aching of my stomach afterward. No one admitted they couldn’t stand smoking clove cigarettes until years later when we reminisced about high school. But back then it was serious business, as we hunched over, passing those cigarettes around and then chewing our Dentyne gum before the next class. After a few months, the clove cigarettes were forgotten, and I decided that the “in” group wasn’t really my thing. In fact, high school wasn’t really my thing.

By my junior year, I missed school more often than I attended. The only reason I didn’t completely drop out was because of my English teacher, Mr. Taguchi. He agreed to let me be his assistant. For some reason, he trusted me more than any adult ever had, asking me to read the freshman English papers and tell him what I thought. He told me to circle the misspelled words and incorrect punctuation. Whether true or not, he made me believe my input was important. I hung my life on him.

For Christmas, he gave me the complete poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. No one had ever given me a book of poetry before. I sometimes ditched classes and sat in the bathroom stall reading it. The numerous love poems in the book allowed me to pretend that Mr. Taguchi was sending me some kind of message. Some twenty years later, the book, inscribed to my old self and signed by Mr. Taguchi, still sits on a shelf in my bedroom.

Thanks to Mr. Taguchi, I learned to enjoy poetry. I felt the same calmness when I read it that I felt as a child when I lit that first match—a kind of centering that I didn’t know existed.

Mostly, I found solace in the poetry of women: Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson. In reading their poetry, I discovered that I was not the only person to contemplate suicide, to think about death, to fantasize about love, to feel like an outcast, to hate and love myself in the same breath, or to have emotional responses to situations when I didn’t have the ability to understand myself or my body. Mr. Taguchi encouraged me to read these poets, and he encouraged me to write my own poems. And even though much of my poetry back then was pretty awful, he told me it was great. Critical to my psyche, like a soothing fire that cleansed my self-doubting soul, his constant encouragement kept me in school.

On one of my last days as a high school student, I visited Mr. Taguchi to say goodbye. He hugged me and said he was glad to see my name on the graduation list. He also told me he was glad that I wasn’t lurking in the bushes any more, playing with fire and smoking cigarettes. I realized then that I’d traded matches for poetry—one passion, one obsession for another.

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Author Bio: SARAH BAIN is a writer, a wife, a mother, and a pet owner, though not always in that order. She has work forthcoming or previously published in Long Story Short, The Loss Journal, The Philosophical Mother, Imagine Magazine, Moonshinestill, Northwest Woman, and more. She is also a fiction reader for Bellevue Literary Magazine.

Email Sarah at sarah@bainbooks.com

Author Sarah Bain

 

Artist Bio: See more of Gitte Moller's work here - www.absolutearts.com/portfolios/m/moller


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