Hell With the Lid Off
[Pittsburgh, as described by
Boston writer James Parton
That a place of water and rock
could be so formed by fire,
that untameable, unsatiated blaze,
the captured dragon unsubdued:
its cauldron head descending,
steel pouring, sparks spitting,
slicking cement floors with wavering
molten lines between
process and incineration.
Even the sky paid for proximity;
thirty miles away the horizon
glowed orange as if flames
were licking the paint off the night.
The men filed out: singly, sooty,
shift-light, shirts simultaneously
soaked and dried, a line of St. Georges
with the tongue of the devil
and a thirst for an Imp and an Iron.
In the half-darkness of the bars,
they debated kids and cars,
sports and exploits, the flames
reflected in set faces, sidelong
glances, a blackened finger
subtely raised for another round.
They went home eventually,
ate the stews, the roasts, the pies
baked by wives who had stopped
dreaming of clean curtains.
They made love in grinding fashion,
in mini-molten desires, the roar
and the hiss of arc furnaces
in every kiss. The women
set their faces against the black
snow, the midnight afternoons,
making light where none existed.
Until none existed. Almost overnight,
one by one, the mills decayed
into carcasses, the fires snuffed.
The men spent their time in lines,
a once-assured life now erased
from the inside out, their loss
cold-rolled on their souls.
From sagging porches and bars
with staid signs and hard memories,
they watched sons and grandsons
navigate the same twisting streets,
children of different seed
who saw one hill from another,
who raised tall buildings in clear air,
who stood on iron roots yet were
weatherers of gentler storms,
sifters of a softer clay.
Violinist Playing the 1812 Overture
with the French troops falling
and the bow and the snow
swirling through the hall
how could Napoleon miss
the weather in the open white lights?
Perhaps he was distracted
by the fifth chair second violin
her hair and wood turning to gold
both instrument and player
so femininely shaped,
so un-Marie Louise.
And that cruelty of snow
falling in photons that
each chord thickens
changing the landscape
of baton and string,
ambition and loss.
Every sound goes slack in snow.
Cold winds blow mutely
along downshifting fingers
when even the cannons muffle
their roars, accept the inevitable.
What follows is a soft retreat
out of a hard place, a dying
across the fields of the hall.
Her bow hand slides away
like a sword dropped in slush
which was once lush,
Standard Operating Procedure
[An American bomber crew caught in a sudden
severe storm over Italy in 1944 followed SOP
by releasing its ordinance into what the maps
showed as an empty field in case they crashed.
They didn’t, but the field was part of a rural
orphange, and 26 children were killed]
Thunderheads snafu a plane,
its wheels weaving
in drunken cursive above fields
more full than they appear.
Standard Operating Procedure
offers regs for soul-searching.
Children look up
a man looks down:
In such a suspended moment
survival goes to those
who have the least to lose and
life measures less than an inch:
finger tip, button head,
the area of depressed space,
typed name—last comma first.
So much of death is unintended.
dispersed amidst the rain,
falling from an empty sky
on the hands of an empty field.
Joseph Kenyon’s fiction and poetry revolve around the role that history and myth continue to play in modern life. He recently completed a quasi-historical novel and his most recent poems appeared in Eternal Haunted Summer and an anthology dedicated to Freya. When not writing, Kenyon teaches at the Community College of Philadelphia.