Home/I could have danced all night...


When it was still there in August,
my landlady threatened to call the fire department.
The pine needles were already so thick and dry
and sharp on the carpet,
even with socks on,
you couldn’t walk without drawing blood.
But I was in love
and it was bigger than anything they’d ever shown on television.
My Christmas tree had become a Magnifi cent Obsession.
It was more than the red, black, fuschia, and turquoise lace
draped around it,
or the Rudraksha, crystal, and angelskin coral.
It was more than the gracefully curved plastic corkscrew drinking straw
and the brass pennywhistle all the way from Ireland
balanced skillfully in the nether branches.
It was more than the paper boats made of theatre programs
or the ecumenical touches—
luminous postcards of St. Anne and the Virgin,
Krishna neatly shellacked on a maple leaf,
the copper ornament that spelled Shalom in English and Hebrew.
It was more than every piece of cheap, miraculous jewelry
I ever used to turn myself into a Christmas tree.
It was more than the fact that they never let me have one
when I was a kid
because I was Jewish.
It was more even than the most spectacular neon star
you ever saw
wearing a long striped hawk feather
at exactly the same jaunty angle
Maurice Chevalier wore his perfect straw hat.
(The package said
but I did it anyway and burnt out all the miniature bulbs,
wanting, as always, too much at once.)

But God, it was more than all that.
There was something that made me keep that tree
through Valentine’s Day
and hang little pastel hearts all over it.
There was something, on Easter,
that made me hang all those hollow eggs
I decorated myself
with Day-Glo paint
and macaroni.
I had to stop letting people over—they didn’t understand.
My Christmas tree and I celebrated the Fourth of July together.
I wore a red, white, and blue jumpsuit.
The tree wore at least 100 tiny American flags.

You see, when they said my Christmas tree had become
a fire hazard,
I knew they didn’t mean somebody would strike a match nearby.
It was a fire hazard
because someday it would spontaneously combust
from the intense heat of its own unbearable beauty.
And I was waiting,
ready to see at least one of us go out
in a supremely self-sufficient blaze of glory.

It was right there on page 433 in the Book of Lists
between the brain radiation levels of 60 celebrated persons
and a collection of 10 people who had Stigmata.
There it was in glorious black and white:
“Eight Cases of Spontaneous Combustion.”
And while I realized I might never develop holy wounds
on my hands and feet,
and the only person who knew how to measure brain radiation
died in 1952,
deep inside I knew that some day,
with the flawless timing of a fine Swiss watch,
I had as good a chance as anybody to spontaneously combust.
Just like Euphemia Johnson, age 68,
who spontaneously blazed one rainy day in England
while drinking her afternoon tea.

Or Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Rooney
who crossed over together one Christmas Eve
during the second chorus of “Silent Night”
when Mrs. Rooney suddenly turned into a pillar of fire
and Mr. Rooney died from the smoke in the air.
That one went deep.
Now I know when people say
“Do you love me?”
they really mean:
“If I spontaneously combusted, would you inhale the smoke?”

But best by far,
Miss Phyllis Newcombe,
age 22,
who probably spent 3 or 4 months
perfecting a pink organdy gown
with pearl buttons, a polka dot sash,
and baby blue lace at the collar and cuffs,
just to wear to the dance hall that night on August 7th
when she waltzed with the prettiest man there—
the one with the strongest arms
and the wisest eyes
and the prettiest white teeth.
The music was like satin and velvet;
like those luscious chocolate caramels
she once got for Valentine’s Day.
She was so radiant everyone was staring;
even the people waltzing kept craning their necks to look at her.
Something was becoming more and more curiously alive
about the room.
It seemed the air itself was waltzing
1-2-3. . . 1-2-3. . . 1-2-3. . . 1-2-3. . .
It must have been on a 2

that Miss Newcombe smiled exquisitely
and happily burst into flames.
Neither Miss Newcombe’s partner
nor the pink organdy gown
were as much as singed.
For a split second the gown hovered in mid-air,
as if confused.
Then, with nothing left to cover,
it dropped delicately to the fl oor
like a rose petal.

I like to imagine Miss Newcombe’s partner understood.
That he picked up the dress
and quietly left the hall
while everyone else went crazy.

People and Christmas trees who spontaneously combust
go to a secret place
where everything is switched on and awake.
Those little golden particles
you see when you’re excited
are constantly vibrating in the air.

Miss Newcombe had to combust.
She’d never be 22 again
in that gown
on that night
with that man
with those teeth.
Here, she moves in a state of constant consummation
with the dazzling uniqueness of an albino giraffe.
All the trees are Christmas trees
with silver garlands and sequins
and those electric glass ornaments
with bubbling water.
Every moment is always, always, always enough.