Sunday, April 5, 2015

Somersville Mill Fire


A splay of heat-warped girders,
a tumble of brick. The mill burned
so abruptly firefighters arrived
as it tipped into the river

to fry a few dozen fish.
The whole village turned out
to bask in the glare. The ghost
of my Uncle Chet must have been there.

For decades he mended looms,
scuttling between angry machines
with tool kit and powerful thirst.
Drinking repeatedly killed him,

but he rose from his grave, returned
to work, again and again
until the mill closed forever.
Behind the brick complex a slew

of tenements where the sister
of a kid I knew in high school
took on all the boys, including
her brother. Her flesh lay warm

in summer light, warm as the wreck
of the mill as firefighters rolled
their hoses. The river churns
over a dam and through a trough

half-choked with debris. The mill pond
mirrors a featureless sky.
Fishing that still water bored me,
but my father liked the silence

and poise of watching his bobber
red and white on green-gray slick.
He must have wondered why Chet,
younger sibling, drank so deeply    

that he drowned his memory
of island war, a water-cooled
machine gun heavy on his shoulder.
I kick a few bricks and turn my back

on the wreck of the mill. No use
clearing the rubble for parking lots—
no reason to park here, nothing
to the village but a few houses,

a brown brick school, wooden church.
The pond shivers. Early spring
and the smell of fire two years ago
still brisk and bitter on the tongue.

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