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Nathan McClain​

“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 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.

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