On the morning the house burnt,

Flames smoldered among the laths.

Chunks of horsehair plaster

Shattered into clouds of dust.

In the oaks, two sparrows

Sputtered into silence.

When he was done with what he did,

Pop snapped a photo of the blaze

(Such as it was)

And another of the yard beside it,

Charred yet greening,

Dandelions clawing from the rubble,

Swallowtails flitting, an old dog

Rolling joyfully in the scent of death.


Ignis fatuus was

Not a phrase

Pop admired. He

Had no use

For Molotov cocktails,

Gas cans, or

Bic lighters. “A

Fire requires,” he

Wrote, “A kitchen

Match, A pocket

Of twigs (Dry)

A steady Hand.”

He took pride in his work.

And he worked for free.


After Mama leaped out

The flaming second-story window

And broke both old legs and punctured

Her liver and the ambulance lugged her off to die,

A deer hunter ran up against Pop in the woods,

Found him striding through the ferns,

Gripping a little cardboard suitcase,

And staring into the setting sun.

Right away Pop said,

“She asked me to do it.”

Then he sat down on a log

And unwrapped two ham sandwiches

And told the deer hunter

To call the cops.


Some say

The word means

The malicious setting on fire

Of a house, a ship, a forest,

And some say

The word derives from

Latin “ardere”—more at ARDOR,

But God says

The word in my heart

Is like a fire,

A fire shut up in my bones.

I am weary of holding it in.


I cannot.


Dawn Potter is the author of eight books of prose and poetry. She directs the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, serves on the faculty of 24PearlStreet, and lives in Portland, ME.