My life began with the fire,
glimmering in the birthwaters.
The voices beyond my bedroom wall
were murmuring a memory.
He said: Nothing would be the way it is
If she had escaped to Shawmut Street.
Been saved. In this way How is it?
palled and quenched my days.
Such is the virtue of messages
irrefutable and enigmatic –
they are receptive to reinterpretation.
I stared at a wire service photo
fixed with brutal light, a firehose
snaking through soaked debris,
faces slack with shock, abandoned by disbelief.
to have such a story to tell.
Nothing would be the way it is.
To speak of a desirable world,
the listening leaning in, entranced.
It was November in Boston,
women collapsed waiting
for their coats, the ceiling’s satinette billows
crackled and melted and were drawn
into their throats.
A shoe goy wedged in the revolving door.
A face was pressed against glass.
The fireball: described as bright orange, or bluish
with a yellow cast, or bright white.
The Cocoanut Grove burned in minutes, in 1942,
with a huge sibilant exhalation.
I tell this version as if before an inquest,
but even a single night evades judgment,
bloated with storied fact
and unassignable blame.
or not at all. Allure of the lurid past,
corrosive worm of remembrance,
the nozzle’s snout regressing
through ash and debris –
it is difficult to adore the damaged world
without abusing it.
then I resisted. The scene of disaster,
portable into the future like installed art,
burned up the present like a painted poster,
gaudy ink its own accelerant.
When flames rage at the generosity
of oxygen and race up the stairwells
where we wait for the music to begin –
when the inner life is unformed, flame-like –
who hasn’t seen shapes and faces in the fireplace?
on the sites of catastrophe, grateful
when these renewals inspire
such indifference. Our purest gaze,
in the atria and the lobbies,
even as the alarms sound, evacuations rehearsed,
the streets filling with imaginary survivors.
I tell this story
to abandon it for something like the sleep
settling on the boy like asbestos.
To turn away from terror
and touch a charred and unexplained world.
A story to survive the clearing of its smoke,
dissipating over many tellings, centuries.
Overtaken by events,
what does the boy do? Strikes
matches, sets fire to the fence
next door, conceals himself