She Burns the City

by Jane Zwart

Burning the barber’s, my mother doesn’t fuss
about the dandies waiting on shaves. She doesn’t muse
on their toweled jaws: lucky stay against the smoke
or harbinger of the others, charred and mummified.

She burns the doctor’s and does not pity the nurse
who is not out front, soot on the wings of her strange
starched hat; she burns the bakery and doesn’t smell toast.

And when St. Joan of Arc’s School for Girls goes up
and no one screams, my mother doesn’t wonder
what stalwart nun, a fierce finger to her lips,
hushed the girls and rescued the place from farce.

The post office smolders and love letters smolder
and the Penny Saver smolders the same. My mother
does not sigh. She torches the park, its maples
already aflame–it is fall. She lights a corner
of the local library, which is no Alexandria, but still.

And still more conflagration: it takes a bridge and ruffles
the river to ash; it swallows the fireman’s hall:
not one barrel-chested fellow cannons out
to cry irony, suspenders unshouldered.

Meanwhile, the Mason’s secrets melt inscrutable
behind a storefront’s blonde facade. My mother doesn’t count
the loss and, burning the pub, doesn’t register the laughter
the town anarchist looses, the bar’s top shelf transformed at last
into a magazine of Molotov cocktails.

As for the homes, she burns them alphabetically at first.
A clan of Abrahams, at their addresses, are early victims,
but soon the whole city, disorderly, catches light.

. . .

We watch the blaze turn the phone book’s pages, watch it
lick the last loose envelopes, re-blacken the Polaroids,
and my mother sets the emptied banker’s box on the pyre.
Grandma hated Salem she says, and I say No, I know.

Jane Zwart teaches English at Calvin University, where she also co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Her poems have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Rattle, Ploughshares, The Poetry Review (UK), and TriQuarterly.

Artwork by: Francesco Gallarotti