MARY KOVALESKI BYRNES
How does an inferno begin?
Let me guide your hands
on the wheel. Drive us toward the heart, the ruin.
Who can turn away from the spectacle of fire?
This town a funeral pyre. Only gods could be
so reckless. The birches’ new green
on the jet-black culm and Good Friday threatening
snow. An entire block of houses boarded,
They dug coal holes in the cellar,
called it robbing back. But didn’t a thousand men get left
with shovels in their hands?
This land’s a wreck.
I promise you, it was not ignorance, only love
and hunger. Maybe pride.
We’re only midway, the first stations of suffering.
We don’t have to kiss
the stigmata for another three hours.
We could drive to the place where everything started,
stand by and watch it all rage away.
His hand on her housedress
and men at the door.
What holds a place in history
for the illiterate? The muted immigrant?
The woman who just wanted
children and quiet? She’ll never
pass down this violence.
Better even to fudge the dates
on the graves. What flight
looks like when you have no fists
and only love: years on the phone
to get the black lung money. Crash
of the wrecking ball next door.
Whatever you do, don’t
say his name. Let him
die already. Good riddance.
Don’t stick around for the bulldozers
coming over the hill. I can hear them
already, but maybe you were just shaking
down the stove. I want to apologize—
I think I’ve remembered
all the wrong things.
On the census, her signature,
her hand writing the children’s names,
his. She hands over
the pen. He leaves an X.
Mary Kovaleski Byrnes’ work has appeared in Guernica, the Four Way Review, the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, the Boston Globe, Poet Lore, Cimmaron Review, the Best of Kore Press, PANK, and elsewhere. She teaches writing and literature at Emerson College, and is the co-founder of the emersonWRITES program, a free creative writing program for Boston Public School students. Originally from Pennsylvania, she now lives in Arlington, MA with her husband and two-year old son, Xavier.