Ami Maxine Irmen

October 8, 1871

Peshtigo, WI

 

We hid in the pond the night that fire fell

from the sky like rain. The smoke

that hung over the water was so thick

the foghorns had been blowing

for three days straight, trying to help

the ships guiding themselves,

even in daylight, by compass and hope.

They claimed it was draught, it spread fast.

It was Father that had the idea

to dunk ourselves into the pond,

knowing we couldn’t outrun it,

that if we walked in

as deep as we could, heads bobbing

above the water, we would be okay.

He told me to put my soaked shawl

over my face to keep my skin from burning,

allowing me to stay above the surface

to breathe. He removed his shirt.

The fire kept falling. It crackled

with the scent of burning leaves

and flesh. I’m not sure

how long we stayed in the pond.

I had waded over to Father

and leaned my head on his shoulder,

drifting in and out of sleep,

shivering all the while.

 

 

Ashes on Window Sills

Oswiecim, Poland, September 1941

 

Mama is cleaning again.

Tata can’t sleep

with the windows closed,

and since the factory

opened, Mama cleans

every day. She plunges

the rag into greying water;

the sound as she wrings

it out reminds me

of a hard rain.

It’s her eyes

I can’t pull myself

from, like mornings

when it is still dark,

when there’s mist,

but it’s difficult to tell

if it hangs in the air

or falls to the Earth

ever so slowly.

When I offer to help,

she swats my hand

away with more force

than she used to.

I never ask Mama

about the factory

because though I am

too young to know,

I am old enough

to know not to ask.

It will be years

before Mama, that same lost

look hanging in her eyes,

will finally sit

me down to explain:

the factory fires

burned so brightly

because they were fueled

by souls.

The ashes of bodies left

behind took to the air

as a last chance of escape,

only to gather

in the corners

of our window sills,

just out of reach

of Mama’s insistent rag.

____________________________________________________________

Ami Maxine Irmen is an introvert, writer, photographer, and teacher. She uses all mediums necessary to explore what it means to be human, to make connections, and to seek truth. She prefers her books to be paper, her music to be vinyl, and her trees to be weeping willows.

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