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The Fire Wardens
by G. C. Waldrep

take fire and keep it safe from other fire, and from us. We are not alone in this emerald galaxy. Paint runs from the center to the margins on daylight saving’s time, inexplicable as rice or the meaning hidden inside the war’s French doors, set into the sky-blue chancel of an ancient church. Does it matter if the poison is “natural,” that is, organic. The wardens keep fire in small lead-lined boxes we’re supposed to forget. To remember is to exchange an actual past for a copy. This is what painting wants. This is what the war wants, slipping into the chancel at night and shutting its terrible eyes. Inside the church the war spins. It hums a little. The air feels part-pigment, part-liquid, stained by the dark skins it touches. Outside, the wardens gather. They surround the building. They bolt the doors shut. Everything inheres within the picture plane. It’s about fire, and about faith’s certainty of fire. See the gingerbread catch, the heavy architrave. See the harlequin windows implode. Inside the church the war, blinded, screams its mother’s name, which we, outside, can’t quite make out. The wardens stand at a safe distance, heads cowled and bowed. Invisible lines running between them mark the earliest constellations. See the painter’s thumbprint in the encaustic, the inverted figures of the knights, the ergot sufferer. Something remains concealed inside a plain wooden door. Little lead boxes inside of which the fire is resting, repeat the docents from their dulled scripts. We are not alone, art keeps telling us. Daily we scrape the ashes from our thin skins. The poison’s fever in the third blood as the bolts latch. Is what painting wanted. A more intimate, unified body. An inner zodiac of false suns blazing. As if there were no wardens. As if no one were out there. To stand in the doorway. To enlarge the circle, as in a children’s game. That scream again, in the blackening night. Who lets the fire out. Which war is it this time that we’re burning.