The Arsonist

There comes a price

to pay

when you play

with fire–


a sacrifice

that comes with

having ashes

for want of air

in lungs

that try to collapse

in on themselves

with every chance

they get;


I am a creature

with gasoline

in my veins

and smoldering

embers for eyes,

kisses that taste like

vodka and blood,

and smoke

that cascades off

of my lips

every time I speak–


again I say:

there comes a price

to pay

when you play

with fire.


You see,

I am

in many ways

an artist,

and destruction

is my art–


someone once

told me that


I destroy


and everyone

around me

because there’s

nothing left

to destroy

in myself;


don’t tell me

you’re surprised,

because I learned

the art of destruction

from you.


After all;

You did give me

my first set

of matches.


Because, I didn’t know

there was a price

to pay

when you play

with fire.


And maybe

that was part of

the seduction–

the danger.

The promise of

third degree burns

and blistered flesh,

of raw skin

and red eyes,

of choking

on the flames

that threaten

to jump down

your throat

and kiss you

from the inside out–


no one

told me

that you

don’t always

need wood

to let the fire



Would you believe

me if

I told you

the first time

was an



You have to understand,

that there is a price

to pay

when you play

with fire.


I have become

a bomb,

you know.

A firework.

A creature

with craggy,

burnt rock

for skin

that once shined

white like porcelain–

a being

who inhales

the acrid smoke

of dying cigarettes

and exhales

the suffocating


of wildfires,

because she will

do anything

to keep the

flames that lick

her interior alive–


this fire

gives a whole new

meaning to

the term



You know,

everyone is naturally


of heat

and flames,

yet they are drawn

to this light

in swarms of

translucent moths,

all begging to be

seared with

the colours

of the blaze

that has branded

itself into my soul–

yet they leave


when all they get

are singed wings

and powdered ashes

from the things

before them

that have perished

in my presence;



I touch


seems to die.


And call me wicked,

but I like

the fear I see

in the faces

of those

who scramble

to scatter

as I walk past,

alighting the ground

with blue flames

in my wake–


this fire

keeps everyone

at a distance,

so they may


but not



The men tremble

and crumple

at my feet

as I

kiss them

with my fiery


and caress

their faces

with my

burning fingertips,

their skin melting


the heat of

my gaze,


like the wax

of old candles

about to burn out.


Their eyes

plead for more

in the glow

of the faint

stars and

silver moon.

I smile at them

with ruby lips

and eyes

the colour of

red wine.

I want to

let them get closer;

I want

to see

who will brave

these plaguing

flames  that have

kept me safe for

so long.

But, of course,

I never let

that happen.

I beckon

them close enough

to smell the

gunpowder on my breath

and whisper a warning

in their ears.


I tell them:

there comes a price

to pay

when you play with fire.


It’s not my fault

they never



This piece was actually partially a response to/inspired by Sylvia Plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’, specifically the lines;

-“Peel off the napkin/O my enemy/Do I terrify”

-“Dying/Is an art, like everything else./ I do it exceptionally well.”

-“Out of the ash/I rise with my red hair/And I eat men like air.”

I kind of wanted to explore the idea of being seduced by the art of destruction–there is something so terribly poetic about destroying yourself to the point of no return, now, isn’t there? It is something that has never failed to fascinate me, perhaps because this is what I do to myself over and over and over again—destroying myself, I mean. Something about picking myself apart and stitching myself back together is so horribly appealing to me; being in the heat of the moment, making irrational decisions, whether it be the idea of drinking too much, or walking into a busy street and daring the cars to hit me, or holding my hand over an open flame to see how close I can get before I can’t stand it anymore. The list goes on and on. Destructive behaviours only result in deeper wounds and darker thoughts—that’s what I’ve learned, and I think that this piece is almost a manifestation of that idea.

In this poem, the idea of destruction came in the form of fire—or the imagery of fire, rather. The reason for this is I have always found something about fire and smoke and ashes immensely seductive and sinister. Almost like the Sirens of Greek Mythology—they’d draw the sailors in with their lovely voices and their beauty, only to trap and drown the transfixed men in order to feast on their corpses. Because of this, the narrator of my poem is a femme fatale.

I wanted to merge these ideas—the theme of destruction from Plath’s poem, and the idea of a femme fatale (which literally means ‘fatal woman’)—and concoct one piece out of the inspirations that I’d had prior to writing the poem.

With this femme fatale idea, I also wanted to create a theme of empowerment throughout the piece; meaning, literally, women who have power and who ‘wear the pants’ in relationships with men. The reasoning for this was because, at the time that I wrote this piece, I felt rather suppressed and subordinate to the male population for various reasons, which I will not get into now. I suppose that this piece served as a ‘screw you’ to everyone who had been making me feel less than I was, and was my way of making myself feel stronger and more empowered over situations that I had let take control of me.

This piece was also my way of ‘taking my broken heart and making it into art’, in a sense, because at the time that I wrote this piece, I was very much falling into the vicious cycle that comes with having destructive habits and tendencies, which can be hard to deal with due to the fact that self-destructive actions are, more often than not, violent of manner and consequence.


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4 thoughts on “The Arsonist

  1. Dear Hope,

    I loved this piece the first time I read it, and I didn’t think it was possible to love it more, but I can now see that time has only made my appreciation and respect for this poem increase.
    First of all, the imagery that you weave throughout is really incredible. Some of these lines just take my breath away, and really make me think about their implications. I love that you were able to use such powerful images throughout the poem without overwhelming your reader and drowning them in the fire. As a writer, I am still trying to find the balance between too much imagery and not enough. Somehow you were able to strike the perfect balance in this poem. I felt as though you used imagery, symbolism, and metaphorical language in perfect harmony with simple diction, engaging structure, and characterization. I applaud you for this, because for me, that represents the brilliance of you as a writer.
    I also really liked how you separated your stanzas. I loved the drastic variations in length because I think that it was a great visual representation of fire’s unpredictability.
    I’m not sure if this was intentional, but your punctuation at the end of each stanza was really incredible. I noticed that you only ever ended the stanzas with semi-colons, dashes, or periods – which I think was really clever because, amidst all the chaos of the structure and the subject matter, there is a sense of control, as if the character is meticulous in her malice, purposefully branding her victims with first-degree, second-degree, or third-degree burns, each of which equated to semi-colons, dashes, and periods. It’s possible that I am reading too much into this, but if my interpretation was based on something you did intentionally, then I really commend you for it. If not, I still think that it was brilliant to do that because it left the potential for some powerful interpretation. In the case it was intentional, I then have a question for you: what was the function of the one question mark? The question mark was the only exception to your rule of ending stanzas with only semi-colons, dashes and periods, so I am curious as to its purpose.
    There isn’t much that I can give you for constructive criticism, but something that comes to mind is your visuals. I really liked the visual you had at the beginning of the piece, and I would have liked to see more of them spaced throughout. I think that they would have complimented your writing really nicely and would have enhanced your overall piece. Even if you intentionally left them out to draw more attention to the writing itself, I would advise that you then end your piece with a visual. It would end up being a nice circle effect to have one at the beginning and one at the end. 
    Altogether I am thoroughly impressed by this poem, and I’m really glad that you chose to put this up as your free choice! Thanks, Hope!


    1. Zi,

      First of all, thank you for the lovely comment!!

      Secondly, to answer your questions about my choice of punctuation, yes all of it was intentional. Your interpretation of it was actually pretty spot on, because I did want to explore the use of meaningful punctuation, in that it’s not just there to punctuate what is being said, but to convey a sense of premeditated, calculated control. I tried to follow the Shakespearean aspect of punctuation, in terms of logos and pathos with the colons and semi-colons especially, and I’m actually super happy that you noticed because that means it worked. (I hope)

      The purpose of the question mark was to give a sense of feigning innocence, if that makes sense. It was kind of like an I’m-pretending-to-be-innocent-even-though-you-and-I-both-know-I’m-not type of thing. The narrator of this piece was a femme fatale, and so the question serves almost as one final ‘enticement’ to draw her audience in once more before trapping them in her web.

      Thanks again for the wonderful comment!


  2. Dear Best Friend,

    This is my second time reading this piece–it will always be one of my favourites! I want to specifically comment on your use of enjambment and how short each line is. Just like Zi mentioned during our seminar the other day, this enjambment gives the piece a faster pace which helps put emphasis on the chaos behind what is being said. I think this is what makes your piece so engaging.

    My favourite lines–“you did give me/ my first set/ of matches” LOVE. I also appreciated your exploration of the seduction of destruction and of danger. It’s a condition that is so human on our part, yet it is one that we do not often admit to. Bravo!

    Overall great poem. As you know, I often struggle to critique your work because it’s so damn good. All I’d suggest is maybe add a little blurby at either the top or bottom of your piece explaining what inspired you to write it. I always find that type of stuff interesting.


    Best Friend

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