September 25, 2022

Elegy for Father and Son

by David B. Prather

I am my father’s anger,
his hands at my throat, his fingers
a ring of flames around my neck.

The Ohio River catches fire,
a glaze of industrial chemicals raging
through the night, witch’s hair, devil’s tongue.

The hottest fire I know burns in the wood stove.
Embers fall and scorch the floor.
Not even the sun can burn as bright.

I don’t remember
what I did to spark my father’s fury.
I know I was unreasonable.

Neither of us have an excuse.
Neither of us can explain the napalm between us,
the incendiary history that strips emotion from our bodies,

from our bones.  The world turns to cinders
around us.  One conflagration leads to another,
and each flammable house

down the street smolders.  Smoke follows beauty.
As ridges blaze, sunset crumbles
to twilight, night explodes

with stars.  I remember
not being able to breathe,
an inferno caught in my throat,

flames in my lungs,
my father’s face a savage furnace.
I remember candles in windows making shadows.

I remember grease fires on the stove,
our hands incinerated.
Across the river, a gas line explodes,

chars midday air.
The death toll will be enormous.
People will break apart as tinder

and burst into a thousand fiery ashes.
Someone will crawl out on their hands and knees,
all the demons of hell dancing upon their back.