Fool’s Fire

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Lights out. From bed
I look out the window, a bare

December view from
The crown of Squirrel Hill.

The moon’s arctic cuticle
Points to our silver linden,

Its leaning silhouette
Gaunt and unleafed.

Burled limbs knot heavily,
Haunted by summers.

Through its dendritic reach of branch,
The gravel cutting of the SEPTA line,

The looming red-brick wreck
Of the HERMAN Iron Works,

Then the slow murk of the Schuylkill
At low tide, wind-rumpled mud flats,

Cemeteries asleep above the banks
And the unnavigable garbage bogs,

Bales of barbed wire and half-sunk strollers.


Quick and bright, then faint,
Refinery gas flares

From the old Arco plant
Hover over the horizon,

Torches blustered by wind,
Their pent fuel phantomed into fire,

Spent in spectacular meteors
Up the black sky, Will-o’-the-wisps,

Like the legendary flickers that lured
Medieval pilgrims from well-worn ways

To roam frozen marshes
In search of Fairy Lights

That only recede until they fade,
Leaving them

Alone in darkness.


I light my lamp, take up my book,
But the tiny type just junks to nothing,

So I look up for the distant fires.
There are none. I read. I look again

And there is one. Then two.
In summer, when the linden is full,

The ghost lights endure
Unseen beyond the green,

But in winter they summon
And bloom all night.

My wife and child dream, secure from gusts
That rattle the window pane

Above the antique radiator that ticks and sings
Under its unsteady stacks of unread books.

Such small comforts remain a while,
So why can I not keep myself

From watching for the far-off lights,
Meaning so much now and nothing,

Forever beckoning me from my bed?