Look: through the smoke as brown as earth,
The whiff of moth balls, and dried-up rat turds:
Yellow lights and legs, the glint of a pick,
Swinging elephant nozzles,
Then banded arms emerge.
The breathless world.
Baggy dirt-yellow sailorsuits,
Oxygen tanks and diving masks
To help catch drowners amidst the fumes—
A firemen’s sooted facelines
Are trenches dug for war.
They break windows like break-in experts,
Carefully knocking out the bottoms first,
Bringing the axe’s thick side to the pane
Then gently tapping the top, so the whole piece
Slips without a sound from its frame:
Two with axes, red and silver axes,
Are knocking out the windows,
Making the glass rainbows.
One told me, smiling: “Smoke’s the air we breathe.”
The pink ungoggled socket-eyed faces!
But firemen ignore their crowds. They gather, talk,
Then enter the smoke-choked mouth again.
Through bursting smoke the crow-bars swing.
“Whiles I am a beggar, I will rail”
Remember your name.
The home keeps you regular, so pay.
Do it every time.
SO YOU SAY
THE HOAM KEEPS YOU. REGULAH PAY
GITS SAVED. GIT BACK ON YOUR FEET.
SO YOU SAY,
PREACHER. IS THAT RIGHT,
GIT SAVED, GIT BACK ON YOUR FEET
WHEN THEY THROW OUT OUR TRANSISTOR RADIO?
PREACHER, IS THAT RIGHT,
TOSSIN’ IT IN THE DUMPSTER? Who
Threw out our transistor radio?
DO YOU THINK I’D THROW OUT OUR THINGS,
TOSS THEM IN A DUMPSTER? WHO
IN HERE HAS NOTHIN’—
We do. Think. You threw out your things.
IT’S OTHER MEN
IN HERE HAVE NOTHIN’.
YOU HAVE TO GIT ME IT BACK AGAIN,
IT’S OTHER MEN
DO IT EVERY TIME.
YOU HAVE TO GIT me it back again.
REMEMBER MY NAME.
Derek Webster lives in Montreal and edits Maisonneuve, a new arts magazine.
Other poems are appearing in Bomb, Boston Review, The Antigonish Review, and
online at Ducky and the The Drunken Boat.