blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



The Superstition of Fire

The blue comet crossing Orion
says Quetzalcoatl's return is certain, easy in
for foreign greed, disease, and fall—
monumental, but not
the happy return of a god. The sky

is always saying something:

no more of that. Or, more of it
and worse
, meteor shower pelting Sodom
before the sinkhole opened a wet mouth

known earlier as 'the deluge,' asteroid
the size of Memphis
striking the Persian Gulf, lifting it
as a single sheet to a fertile
valley of the east, describing
for them a singular god:     bad bones

thrown by the Egyptian priest
for a pharaoh drowning
under the Red Sea,

taking the sky flash as a positive
after the miscellany of plague, blood water,
and innocent frogs escaping
a river pelted with hot rose pumice
courtesy of an unimagined volcano.

The quality of news
depends wholly on whose side—

Normans riding horses
under the sword
of Halley's Comet; pointing up
from their forests, Angles mark it the devil's tail.

Some collisions beyond record, initiates
of continental drift, mass extinctions
seeding 'apes with thumbs'
devoted to the enlarged cranium,
like nature, hell-bent on invention.


Signature of the last century,
but almost no one
there to read it:        butterfly
over the Siberian taiga. Old pines

ripped from their roots, flattened
by two giant hands. As seen from half a mile up—

the explosion searing ground
in rough semi-cirque wings,
enclosing a weird center
where trees are blackened telephone poles.
The Evenkis

will not go near it, the man living closest
struck deaf and silent for seven years.
What he saw, larger than the sun,
a hut made of matchsticks
igniting at once. The river

joined the sky.
And he was thrown into air
with the bellowing reindeer, ground
separating from ground.

How his widow and brother
report it for the Russian
come twenty years late, pointing to rotten
harness leather, raw scabs on the backs of animals
still caused by an angry god.

Why they will not take him
near the swamp—

where he discovers
not the remnant meteor, just plants
that shouldn't be here, a rapid growth
unknown to science:            radiant mystery

volunteering in white
and waxy leaves, those flowers exiting
like the soul its vague case,
bracing the shattered earth aside.


In Russia it was unimportant, arctic madness,
an anomalous
aurora less real than the possibility
of revolution. No one knew

what more might come,
predicted by the rogue comet,
uncanny in its year:

to the shock wave
passing twice across the earth,
London's barographs scratched yes,
witnessed there as a startling

garnet sunset, horizons of silver dust,
white night of the ecstatics
and insomniacs without candles
reading, at midnight, the newspapers

of 1908:        when the Nobel winner in Chemistry
praises radioactivity, its benefits and healing,
the same bearer of technology
soon to reify the atomic nucleus,
preparing even then
our 'pillar of fire and cloud':

risen in the night sky over Siberia,
accident of space and time,
poorly referenced in Exodus,
Hiroshima, and Nagasaki
as the terrible visages
of an only God.  

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