This House is Our Burned Bodies

by Marlin M. Jenkins

Not ash. Fuck the mythic metaphor of rising, as if only the movement upward means new life. Remember: Grandma, I met you on that block with the blue porch. You, sitting. Always sitting. I don’t remember the last time I saw you stand but it wasn’t in that house. You say you will see me someday on Jeopardy. You say quit skateboarding, there’s no money in that. But I know there’s something in the wheels, in the bending of wood, in the stairs’ creak announcing they’re here, they have a voice, no matter how many times they’re stepped on. This city is not for us. Is it? I want it to be, but I admit I left. Dad left. The car rolled to the stop sign and the carjackers, they knew. Can I blame them? There is something that needs taking. It might not be the car but we can aim bigger, anyway. I’m walking downtown and hand a woman a takeout box. I know it’s not enough. I want to hand her a window, a museum, a building. I want to be giving without a savior complex. I’m an asshole if I think I could save anyone, anything, but I do wish I could keep a stoplight in my pocket. Keep a boulevard in my backpack. Say, these things are ours. Say, this home is our home.


I dreamed of Warrendale again. I drove past the same corner again again again and it tilted. It bent. It didn’t make a sound. Remember, neighbor: I saw you last on my lawn where we would jump and see how many times we could spin before landing. We waited for tornadoes. We played Power Rangers and I was Kimberly. Ninja Turtles and I was April. The reporter. In the dream I asked you why you left. I asked me why I left. I asked me why I can’t write about home and see the city wet. It’s burning. It’s bright. I didn’t start running until I left. In the living room, I’m shifting on a plastic- covered chair and it squeaks. The sound doesn’t rise—it expands. It wraps us. But not like a bubble, more like an aura. A transparent cloud. A fog through which we see clearer. We stand, together. We will be back but for now we leave the house. The steps creak on the way down. We walk toward the stop sign. The sound comes with us.


When I left I left with a suitcase full of dog’s teeth. Squirrel bones. A pocket full of tree leaves and strands from carpet. I wrote the house’s voice on my body. Carved fissures where there were fissures. Tattooed the fading paint with blood.

I knew the houses. Grandma, this house is our body. Your body is the gunshot. The gun is my mouth. The city opens and it spills a mountain of powder.


Yesterday, I shoveled through the mounds of soot and called it Enoch, called it Elijah, ascension—not Lazarus, not stone rolled away nor the storehouse lled with grain, a silent silo, my arms blackened and black and backward past library, past museum until I discovered a trunk lled with tongues.

They had no questions. They told me a story about fire. They said, “Whatever you are, I am.” They said, “We do not wait.” They said, “You cannot save us, but it is because we need not saving, not grace—just the air, just the skin to lick, salivate on, to taste.”

I was digested into the ruin’s intestine, pressed my knuckles against the walls of duodenum, tried not to scratch anything—make no more damage to any more walls. I pressed my ear to brick and tasted the smoke. Wafted in the sound of chariots and caught a ride in the haze.


Grandma says, “Don’t do dope. It’s called dope for a reason.”

I tell her I won’t and at the moment it’s true. She tells my sister she needs posture lessons. I tell her how much we know about slumping, how a roof can fold easy as cardboard, how last week I cracked an egg and glass came out, porous yolk with a membrane of steel.

She never says anything about grandpa drunk or working at the steel mill but I wonder how often those coincided. She says she needs to watch her stories. Each day. I leave and come back and each day it’s her stories or Jeopardy. The category is places in which you felt most alive, or places you know are still alive despite what you’ve been told. I wager every dollar. I know this one, Grandma. I know.

Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and is a Zell fellow at University of Michigan, where he earned his MFA in poetry. His writings have been given homes by The Collagist, Four Way Review, The Journal, and Bennington Review, among others. You can find him online at and @Marlin_Poet.