What if You Don’t Light the Match

by Lynn Finger
“The average burn time for a 6x8” cotton square is 56 seconds.”
—Eric T. Jagar, California Science Fair, 2008
Cotton canvas is the most flammable, although poly blends can go faster because they melt.
He holds a match not yet lit in his hand. (His hair has three grey strands in the blackness.) He

makes paintings that hang in his silent studio. The new painting he just palette knifed, ocean in
blue, purple, yellow, a startling flower hangs on the featured wall. It was to catch the eye. No one

has bought anything. (People buy what will make them look good, not what is really art: a
statement of what isn’t, what could be, or what was for a moment, he thinks). He is in the gallery

on an off day to paint and burn the whole place down. (He’s waiting to see if something stops
him.) The studio’s closed sign is up, but the door is unlocked. Right then the stranger comes

into the studio, she is a startling flower, hair cut short, a surprised dynamic of angle bones
in her face, and sees the match over the canvas, like a high dive from a broken board.

“What are you doing?” she asks. He pretends to mix his palette, watching her, moves to the sink,
removes his shirt to wash off as he works, and their eyes, faceted, knowing like dragonflies,

flare in the silent middle. (He wants her and she wants that.) He takes her with his bare arms, 
and layers his secrets into her, curates her, even as he says he loves her, and after, while she

buttons her blouse, he brushes her cheek to tell her she can’t say what happened between them,
it would expose him and he would lose funding, so it couldn’t happen again. “You were holding

a match,” she said. “With turpentine. You were ready to change it all.” He nods. He says
he already has lost his funding, and all his paintings are shit. “Help me burn it,” he says.

She is silent. On the wall is his latest productive piece, ocean waves (shame glazed) shining
black blaze through, a gold set of veins in an unliked dark wild. The blue is high tide,

the sea in the painting is a spread thrown wide, the colors trace themselves on the sand,
and the water beseeches, a blue wall. She knows what he wants, what we all want, to matter

in a way to someone that could hurt. For the longing. She picks up the palette knife, takes
the canvas from the wall, gently laying it on the floor. He crushes all the matches in his fist

and throws them unlit onto the canvas. She starts at the water, smears it, breaks the matches
down, red ochre striking through like lightening through skin, a million different veins, and

as he witnesses, she paints over, paints over, paints over, paints over, a bloody startling flower.

Lynn Finger

Three Questions for Lynn Finger

What is the significance of this work to you?

I wanted to write about creativity, how it can rise up in a person’s life and offer richness, and then seem to dry up at times. I wanted to show how people’s lives can change in a moment, and how creativity affects this. Our lives and plans can change in an instant, and creativity keeps us alert to these changes. I wanted to explore how creative acts can surge and falter and be healed by their own seeming failings. I hoped to express these different themes which I think play themselves out daily in people’s lives.

What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?

I chose a narrative format with long winding lines. The story unfolds in its own way, and hopefully provides rich descriptions of the paintings and the interactions of the two main characters. The format itself is not a structured form, as structure might imply an internal order. This poem moves at its own pace, like the relationship between artists and their work, and the relationship between the two main characters.

What was the process for creating this work?

The poem began as an idea to illustrate how an unforeseen event can change everything in someone's life. I also wanted to explore an artist’s relationship to their art. I first wrote down the story as it came to me, and I went into detail about his paintings and tools to build the scene in my own mind. Then I went back and rewrote, to sharpen images and get rid of unnecessary words. Then I read it aloud to see how it flows. I repeat that whole cycle until it gets to be shaped into what I was hoping for. I think of my writing in terms of being a sculptor; I start out with a story, an array of words, and then cut out anything that isn’t needed.

Lynn Finger holds a B.A. in Humanities. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Ekphrastic Review, MineralLitMag, Journal of Compressed Arts, Night Music Journal and Drunk Monkeys. Lynn is also a trauma therapist and works with a group that mentors writers in prison.