My mother was cleaning frosting
from some girl’s hair,
random aunts and uncles
were feigning excitement
at each unwrapped gift.
A random glare flickered
at the corner of my eye;
appearing to creep out
of a second story window
from the abandoned house
across the street.
My attention wandered,
waiting for another spark of light
to confirm what I had already seen.
For a second,
only for a second,
before I returned to unwrapping the small pile
of birthday offerings that were before me.
The sun passed behind the high trees
and the general group of kids had taken all
they could fill themselves on,
when the adults noticed the smoke
rising from the planks
and dust covered windows
of the newly emptied house across the street.
Uncles with forgotten names
watching thin tendrils turn
into dark plumes,
gathered up their children.
Our distance assured
our position as bystanders;
the new object of attention
began displaying its flames.
Once void of representation
the abandoned home now seared itself into our memories.
A dry carbon mist spread away
from the heavier billows of smoke,
covering us like a fog
its smell reminded me of a Halloween costume
that my father had accidentally burnt
with his cigarette.
My mother herded all members of the party inside;
the ones who ran inside first
were already watching the scene
in shielded domestication.
The flames stretched up to the sky
to feed its thirst for more.
My mother warned all of us to stay inside
to avoid the poison,
she gathered the adults in hopes
of returning the festive gaiety of the occasion.
Their hold was strongly placed
on the frailty of their comfort zones
being tested and the mortality of
transient objects had frightened
the random aunts and uncles to
witness its demonstration played out
against the lights and sirens.