“Fire Destroys Beloved Chicago Bakery”
How is it that you misread “fire”
as “father”—your father—
come back from the dead,
to sweep, like hard wind, through the building,
to smash, with a Louisville Slugger,
every pastry with which you'd pack
your sweet little mouth, then
flick a lit match into the trash bin?
The entire building
will have to be demolished
because the father took hours
finally to be put out;
it was a stubborn father. Your father
who once, outside a grocery store,
warned you against asking
for anything inside, so you have learned
to keep your appetites a secret.
And how good you are: refusing,
in the drive thru, the hot apple pie
(two for a dollar), choosing
the house salad over french fries.
But maybe this is why
they all leave you, why you can't
let him rest in peace. The real question is
not why your father would do such a thing,
but why you smell him in every ruin, every
smoldering heap of ash and brick?
On the City Bus
The boy wants to pull the cord, because he’s learned
that the bus, as large as it is, will listen, but
his father won’t allow it. They head towards wherever
they were already headed. And watching, I’ve missed
my stop… Wasn’t this among the lessons I was taught
as my mother pressed quarters into my palm
and sent me off alone? “Boy, pay attention
to the driver. Pay attention to where you are.
Know how far this line will take you.
Know when it’s time to pull the cord.”
Love Elegy in the Chinese Garden, with Koi
Near the entrance, a patch of tall grass.
Near the tall grass, long-stemmed plants;
each bending an ear-shaped cone
to the pond's surface. If you looked closely,
You could make out silvery Koi
swishing toward the clouded pond's edge
where a boy tugs at his mother's shirt for a quarter.
To buy fish feed. And watching that boy,
as he knelt down to let the Koi kiss his palms,
I missed what it was to be so dumb
as those Koi. I like to think they're pure,
that that's why even after the boy's palms were empty,
after he had nothing else to give, they still kissed
his hands. Because who hasn't done that—
loved so intently even after everything
has gone? Loved something that has washed
its hands of you? I like to think I'm different now,
that I'm enlightened somehow,
but who am I kidding? I know I’m like those Koi,
still, with their popping mouths, that would kiss
those hands again if given the chance. So dumb.
-from Scale (Four Way Books, 2017) selected by Fall 2020 PoemoftheWeek.com Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres.
Nathan McClain is a poet, editor, and educator living in Amherst, Massachusetts. He is the author of Scale (Four Way Books, 2017), and his poems have recently appeared, or are forthcoming, in New York Times Magazine, Poem-a-Day, The Common, West Branch Wired, upstreet, and Foundry, among others.