He saw teenagers carrying flammable cans
of kerosene and boxes of wooden matches, torching
the discarded carcasses of Fords and Chevies,
spreading flames through abandoned buildings
and unused factories, lighting one-story houses
on narrow lots in small neighborhoods. He saw
old men standing on their front lawns in bathrobes,
holding shotguns and green garden hoses to stave off
the burning. A night of t.v. cameras and wailing
sirens, an hour of reckoning, moment of judgment.
He saw gas stations exploding like tinderboxes
and party stores being looted, and He understood
a new ritual of autumn, an annual reaping,
a fury that gathered night after night, until
it burst forth like a fever in late October.
He was one of the bystanders who waited
on the sidewalk passing a thermos of steaming
coffee and a bottle of whiskey, watching fire-
fighters wading into a furnace of buildings.
He was there when the blaze finally calmed
and the radios quit bristling with static,
when the exhausted crowd dispersed and drifted
toward home. And He was one of the few
who were still awake to witness the sunrise,
to observe a smoky disc flaring over the river,
charring the rooftops, glistening in the ruins.
He closed his eyes and saw darkness visible.
Yellow flames brimmed over cinders and ashes.
A broken skyline smoldered in the distance.
Image: Pollock, Jackson. “The Flame.” 1934-38. Oil on canvas mounted on fiberboard. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.