for T.P., 1936-1993

1. A mother’s lifelong rage. The slow burn
of a wire behind an old house wall, its paper
ornamental to the last, going

sepia before the fire
eats it out from behind.
No ignition:

in the end, at our old tinderbox,
no harm done. The fire truck bellied up,
sirenless, lights pulsing against the night,

and the fireman’s industrial flashlight showed the source,
electricity turned to a slow smolder, smoke

we swam through.
                              In winter’s dark, we warmed
our hands before the voluble
flicker of television, which brought disaster

safely into the designated room.
We bought it on purpose, the neighborhood’s
oldest house.Walls dried to tinder. Walls at last so thin

one good jolt of earth (the fault
a block above us and poised to go, sometime
in the next millennium) would reduce them.

And then, of course, the mountain
crumbling down. We don’t think

of the inevitable: empire fallen, citizens—
schooled in the way of a city
blazing like heaven’s declension—

extinguished at once, our tidy block
reduced to rubble. On the tube,

families huddle in the cold,
their homes burned to ashes, or taken