“The breaking of so great a thing should make a greater crack.” – Shakespeare
The power of fire is not that it burns
But that it distracts:
We save what burns because it burns.
What goes up in flames comes down in ash,
And ash is cremation:
We do not want to die.
There is no suffering in wood, stone, glass,
No Resurrection in their rebuilding:
Only flesh, blood, and bone feel pain.
Never has a candle saved a life,
And though the thirteen-ton bell rings clear
And the stained-glass awes,
Injustice has neither ears nor eyes:
The centuries grow heavy with war, revolution, poverty,
Buttressed only by a sanguine belief in tomorrow.
When the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris was ablaze
I did not cry. I was already sad, already felt the flames
Of great things breaking all around me.
I only wanted to ask the firefighters:
Could you have as quickly, desperately,
Brought clean water to the poor?
To ask the billionaires:
Did you sell your yachts, your cars?
How did you spare so much money so fast?
And to ask the leaders of the world,
The priests, the mourners, the press,
The Parisians, the tourists, the public:
In lighting myself on fire,
Might you be similarly moved?
And what if Notre Dame,
Old, venerable, and angry,
Had intended to burn to the ground
As you watched with awe-struck eyes?
Sunday, May 5, 2019
Andy Posner grew up in Los Angeles and earned an MA in Environmental Studies at Brown. While there, he founded Capital Good Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial services to low-income families. When not working, he enjoys reading, writing, watching documentaries, and ranting about the state of the world. He has had his poetry published in several journals, including Burningword Literary Journal (which nominated his poem ‘The Machinery of the State’ for the Pushcart Poetry Prize), Noble/Gas Quarterly, and The Esthetic Apostle.
Six knives hang above my butcher’s block but the bread knife is my favorite. I love its heft and the way the black handle marries my hand. Wrist stiff, I saw a two-foot long ciabatta loaf into thick slices to bag and freeze. Back and forth, enjoying the rhythm and the crackle as serrated teeth shatter the bread’s exoskeleton. Watching tiny shards of crust tumble to the scrubbed pine board. The sweet relief when the blade sinks into the dough’s soft meat. The last cut that scars the wood when the slices separate.
Jack rolls orange sleeves over firm biceps. He’s missing a lower molar. “I’m a murderer,” he says after my prison writing workshop, not in a way that might intimidate, but more to provide an explanation.
“Oh, really?” I don’t know what else to say.
He’s done nineteen years locked down for most of each day. But that morning, he’d been pounding armored Arizona dirt with a pick-axe in the garden, knee-deep in lantanas that he’d coaxed to flower red and purple.
“Yes, but that wasn’t why I got thirty-two years. The judge didn’t like that I cut the body into eight pieces.”
I like Jack. He fishes for life. Although he lives in a place where men hoard the scent of weakness to hone into shanks, his smile radiates possibility. Every few weeks, he rips little pieces from the worst list of his life and records them on paper ruled with blue lines as faint as scars.
“The body was dead!” he says. “Why did the judge think that was worse than murder?”
In the windowless corridor where even shadows have shadows, sweat slicks our skins in the sweltering heat. He carries my clear plastic tub of books.
We reach the courtyard and the sun’s glare. Troubled that I don’t know the answer to his question, I tell him to revise his poem. Writers have to examine their motives.
After I’m waved through the gate, Jack spreads his legs. A guard bends low to probe Jack’s groin, he slides two hands down each long thigh as though smearing ointment. I don’t hear the joke Jack shares while fingers explore his armpits but I’ve heard his jokes before. They’re silly. Fit for the Sunday Times comic page.
Outside the final gate, the desert is parched to gristle. Mesquite leaves rustle like old fish scales. It feels good to exit that last prison gate and breathe untainted air. But I’m not cleansed. Jack’s story is stuck beneath my tongue. I hope the murder was quick. I wonder where the eight cuts fell, I wonder whether they were chosen to facilitate stackable lengths.
My kitchen knives are old and blunt. They need replacing. When I slice a ripe tomato, the soft flesh bulges before it surrenders to the knife. Before the skin splits to reveal soft flesh, the color of gums. Before the sacs of tiny seeds rupture and squirt thin juice to moisten the front of my shirt.
Gillian Haines is an Australian who lives beside Sonoran saguaros and rufous hummingbirds. She has volunteered in Tucson’s federal and state prisons for eleven years because inmates only know the desert’s thirst. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her narrative nonfiction is published in various magazines including The Santa Clara Review, Bridge Eight, Biostories, The Cherry Tree, and the Tishman Review.
Separated from herbs and rice,
by knife and rifle, a fish in a fracture
of Caspian and Pacific. I remember
nothing of departure or arrival,
nothing of language lost or found,
nothing but this place of both
and neither, a wound of salt surrounding
as threats trill across desert and sea,
an orchestra of terror looming,
leaving me an orphan, flagless.
My name torn in half and sutured, yet
when someone asks how to pronounce it
the accents all scatter and hide,
because there is no right answer in a war
between the one that made me
and the one that raised me,
the one that shamed me
and the one that shames me,
between the chador
and the razor blade,
yasmin and jasmine,
tea and coffee.
There is only a dash,
and I lay there,
Niku Rice was born in Tehran, raised in California, and now lives in the suburbs of Detroit with her husband and three children. She is a doula and childbirth educator