"the quick sharp scratch / and blue spurt of a lighted match"
- Robert Browning
Ever since she was a child she's been fascinated by matches. She loves to light them, loves to hold them in her hand and watch them burn. On evenings when she's lonely she runs through a whole box of them, sitting on the floor of her kitchen, the burnt matchsticks scattered about her like a cuneiform of loss.
What she loves about matches is the spontaneity of their inspiration, their constant readiness to surprise. Loves the visceral scratch of the matchstick striking the strip, the sputtering indignation of the flame as it defies the darkness, the spurt of it neither cry nor song, but a small, precise voice reading a line of exquisite poetry.
When she was little she used to imagine that the matches were people, a race of very small fires trapped by an evil witch inside these little wooden sticks. That the crackle she heard as the match burst into flames was the sound of it rejoicing at its release. She no longer believes this, of course, but there is still something about striking a match and having it come alive in her hand that makes her feel free.
Sometimes when she strikes a match it is because she has something to light - a candle, perhaps, or a cigarette. But mostly there's nothing, or even if there is the perfection of that tiny flame makes her hesitate, makes her pause for fear of blurring its clarity by moving it against the wind. She holds it steady for just an instant, gazing into it in wonder, and then it is too late.
Mostly though she just holds the match up before her eyes, watching the trembling jewel of it dance on the tip of the stick, seeing the burnt wood rise like a shocked eyebrow, or curl into itself like a wounded snake. And when the fire gets too close to her fingers, when it becomes impossible to hold on to it any longer, she lets it fall to the ground, the flame billowing behind it like a shirt or a crumpled wing, the fire reaching the earth broken, dying, the bloodshot eye of it going out in a slow wink.