Spark – a poem by Terry Tierney


In Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, a character’s death is attributed to spontaneous combustion.

You say he deserved it,
rag collector, slumlord 
mining misery from broken tenants, 
any coin for a flask of gin,
his bloated body like an artillery shell
with fumes straining its rusted case.

Until the spark ignites and wicks
inside his windpipe, chases 
saturated blood through arteries,
devouring his flesh in seconds.
Cloud of oily smoke hangs over 
his bed, ash on last night’s dinner,
scraps of bread not even a dog will eat.

No sign of match strike or boot scuff,
no storm clouds releasing their charges 
across the sky of his room. The spark 
arose inside him, as if he balanced 
his internal ledger, always a gap, 
flint spleen scratching rib, or vertebrae 
gnashing against forgiveness, 
then the flash like a wink of usury.

You say his bedding survived,
his legs still planted in leather soles,
his hands extended toward the table,
the loose bundle of bills, glass of spirit, 
as if he thirsted for one last swallow,
one more squeeze for his still heart
now melted into the charred trunk
of his body, compressed like coal.

Easy to fault the gin, the fermented soul,
but what if you misread his gesture, 
what if he reached for his papers
to rend their threads like a widow’s clothes,
a surprise cancellation, an epiphany.

Terry Tierney is the author of The Poet’s Garage and the novels Lucky Ride (December 2021) and The Bridge on Beer River(July 2023), all published by Unsolicited Press. His poems have recently appeared in Rust + Moth, Typishly, Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Lake and other publications. His website is

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