Furniture, Fire, and a Poem

The other day, I happened upon a poem called “My Mother’s Bed on Fire” by Rick Hilles, a professor at Vanderbilt and friend. The poem reminded me of the recent and excellent New York Times article about toxic flame retardants and a scientist’s quest to keep them out of homes.

While I was impressed by the NYT piece, I was profoundly touched by the poem. And the combination of the two, swirling in my head at the same time, very much tickled my brain.

So, with permission, I’ve posted Rick’s poem below.


“My Mother’s Bed on Fire”

First there were just a few zeros

singed perfectly like nihilist monograms

in her elegant nightclothes. Full moons

blackened at their edge. A nightstand;

the ashtray by her bed overflowing


with a pile of broken doll fingers

with lipstick at the ends where

the life-force had been sucked away.

When it finally happened, we were lucky:

She woke up.


And the insurance covered everything.

Now it’s the best room in the house.

We joke about it now; call it her Pleasure Dome.

When I talk about visiting, she says: Bring

your girlfriend, honey, and you can sleep in it.


“My Mother’s Bed on Fire” is from BROTHER SALVAGE, by Rick Hilles, © 2006.  Reprinted and used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.


You can read the NYT story here.

If you want more journalism on cigarettes and flame retardants, check out the Chicago Tribune’s investigation from earlier this year here.

Read about Rick Hilles on Wikipedia here or at his Vanderbilt site here.

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