Combustible by Claire Bateman
In the realm where infants, like comets, show up in flames, igniting as soon as they make contact with the air, all of the delivery room cribs are packed with sand to quench the new arrivals. Immediately upon extinguishment, the babies begin to wail—not in pain, for they are unmarred, but as if in lamentation over their lost luminescence.
Once in a while, before plunging a newborn into its grainy bath, the midwife lingers for a moment to gaze at the golden tongues that spin across the child’s skin as though a hundred lionesses were licking a cub to its first breath.
It is rumored that these delayed-bath babies grow up to be uncommonly fearless and inquisitive, but because no midwife will admit to having committed an act of willful malpractice, the correlation remains forever unproven in this land of pyrophoric entrances.
Claire Bateman’s most recent poetry collection, Scape, is forthcoming from New Issues Poetry & Prose in Fall 2016.