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