My uncles often talked of it.
Cornfields caught fire.
Winds kindled the pasture grass
till barns and trees ignited. It was a story
they’d pass around the back porch,
perfecting the details
of that season cinder drifted
thick as evening,
settled in wells—drawn water
tasted of smoke, they said,
and birds fell smoldering
into embered fields. And maybe
it’s all true: how fire took the town,
how after the salvaging—
the beams and hearthstones
hoisted from ashheaps—some claimed
they’d seen lightning blast the corn crop,
though my uncles promised
it was one of the cousins, gone gasoline-happy
and hungry for judgment day.
And what of the farm daughter,
that same summer, waking fevered
as rabies bristled in her blood?
They told me she lay seven days
in a palsied room, that her parents
tried to conjure some angel
or patron saint, tried even the cures
of country healers, burning garlic stalks
and wreaths of sweetbroom
before a shotgun stilled her frenzy.
My uncles often talked
of such things. And I wondered
why their tales led always
to sickness or cinders,
whirling blades and chainsaws,
or limbs ground up in gears,
I still think of their stories,
how they sat there recounting lives
mangled in machinery
and all those children
curious for stray dogs
and shining jars of arsenic.
These were the mysteries
my uncles pondered like prayer beads,
repeating this or that disaster
until the air seemed alchemized
by their evening talk and swirled bourbon,
their liturgies of grief
beneath the back porch stars.
from Myths of Electricity
Texas Review Press, 2005
Reprinted with permission of the poet