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Complaint Against the Arsonist

ISSUE:  Summer 1992
This pyrrhic fire the barn burned down and blew back
into the dust-weight of its carbon, that burned the air
flecked bright with it, above the wheat in flags,
the barn I spent the summer part-time painting, white
on white to purify the wood, the summer I wheeled ashes
in a foundry, working the aisles between castings
and the cutting edge of molds, ashes I had to hose down hard
like a dog pile of the intimate earth transformed. . . .
At night my arms would levitate like wings, a diamond
in each hand, the morning sun a low round furnace gold.

In those 18th-century English paintings alchemizing
ore, the ones with the dawn-like sunset reds and yellows
always rising, the silhouettes of buildings rising behind
the fires, the foundries are invisible, nothing but storms
the rain-gray horses are pulling the wagons from,
the night shifts ending, the pitch-black skies poised
like the weight of history above a pastoral—before Turner
and Constable and the oxygen-conversion of the landscape
into light—when the picture is still the reality of record,
heightened for effect, named for Coalbrookdale or Bedlam.

That night was industrial and animal, a burning-off of flesh,
the blue clouds’ upward drifting like the longing of all clouds—
you had to stand there hours thinking what it was like,
this dying-off, this earth-transcending gift, the mind a
kind of angel sent ahead, since the suicide is to set the fire
and stay, to let it pull you in, like falling or flying,
since the men I worked among, the one who stayed,
had seen in fire what fire can do, if not this soaring
of a wind straight up, a living building all at once,
the blood screams breaking like electric lights

around the horse that came out stumbling, then soared.


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