Monday, May 21, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Previously published in Footwork in 1987

Barn Fire

vomits flames and smoke into yellow day,
about a mile ahead down the Thruway,
leaves us breathless in the car,
searching through the trees
for a glimpse of the fire’s
hot mouth, as we draw near,
barn skeleton like a
child's drawing in black crayon
vibrating over a floor of solid flame,
walls gone; everything going to charcoal.

I think about hay –
how sweet it is, fresh from the fields,
how it chafes and generates
heat when it’s shut away,
sparks and goes asmolder in the dark.

I was sixteen when my father begged
Uncle Dick to put him in the hospital.
He was terrified, he told me,
that he’d kill himself.

Our mother and he were separated
a couple of years already,
but she drove the two hours it took
to get us up there, soon after he called.

The plastic bracelet hung on his wrist
as he asked me for a light, as we
sat in Rockland State Hospital’s ]
dayroom, a poisonous fog around us, as he
chain-smoked Pall Malls, letting them 
burn down to little cylinders of ash.
He coughed as he talked, a fire 
slowly rising in my chest as he ranted.

Did we know they took the mattresses
off the beds, forced him to pace
back and forth down the hall,
like a moving target?

His hands were shaking, his long 
tobacco fingers pinching the cigarettes 
flat, as his voice cut the air, my throat 
going so raw, I could barely swallow.

Did we know they were starving him?
His supper last night was a 
slice of bologna, and a handful of dry 
spaghetti, with a packet of ketchup.
He cried so hard at the thought of it, 
he couldn’t even choke it down.

We’d bought him another carton of Pall Malls, 
a Life Magazine, a Look. The blister around 
my heart was getting bigger; I could hardly breathe.

It’s only temporary, Tom, try to 
hold on, my mother said. Then she 
told us to say goodbye to him, it was 
time to get going. He asked us for hugs.

I remember my hands beating the air 
around his shoulders, like homeless swallows.
The closest I could come to any comfort.

1 comment:

AJ Ponder said...

Very moving. Cheers.