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Keith Montesano


Before the Fires

This was before the fires, before boarded doors
and everyone clawing, before a way out, roads collapsing

into potholes, telephone poles snapped in half,
hanging by the last nerve. There was this man:

earrings and make-up stolen from his dead wife,
pink dress with white pumps clicking on the floor

of the East Side Dairy, where we rotted our teeth with candy
before grade school. We knew nothing of love and obsession,

madness or plain speech: the way his voice heightened
toward the pitch of hers, his fits of tears at the counter, palm

on a pack of Camels. There was the checkout girl glaring through
the man's eyes, trying to conjure her own future: her first

backseat groping, mansion and five children, anything but a soul
torn from the love of a man and his wife, something you could

actually see, maybe, through the smudged shadow and sweat
on the counter. And if you look now, something's there-

passing through, stopping to offer the difference
between the space of our world and the next: the sweet, stained

tongues of children, and those wrenched sobs of a man
who could never find his own way out.

Prayer: 3200 Hanover Avenue

Bless the arm of the hand of the fingers soon to put the metal
        to his chest, fingertips stretching over the counter,
their slips and misses, bless the smeared windows, the shades

        within reach, bless the method of it all, radio between
stations, static flips to thinner voices, bless your work boots
        and their echoes above, the microwave's hum and ring

through the ceiling, years-passed and caked-on rain, bless the fire
        escape and faces jarred from sleep, soles down the steps,
your eyes toward lovers from doors onto balconies, bless

        your fingers for dialing, hands for their holding,
your voice for its speaking, legs for their shaking, bless
        the rest in your building, hands gripped around phones

and their mouths, and bless the minutes, the wait, the wait
        still passing, split-crack of the barrel, the one
empty shell, bless the snap of the gurney into place, bless

        the whiteness, his shrouded body, bless the police tape
rolled to unroll again, the wheels as they move once more
        bless the arm and the hand, the fingers, that metal.

Watching Youngstown

The chopper's scanning fields and woods beside me
for someone escaped-mentally unstable

or a murderer I'll never know. I make it outside
as the snow keeps drifting down, beating soundlessly

its precise, pale fire.
                             Stomach flu and wrist-thick
knots curling through the gut-whirled blades

still seething over the house like hawks soaring,
methodically plotting the best route to a field mouse.

Back inside: skewed mug shots on television,
local Youngstown news: raped girlfriend, duplex

cored from arson, a son shooting his mother. Stories

always the same: pummel and discharge, strangle

and blood clot. And while I'm lying flat, willing each deep
breath, I forget the process:
                                        How do you escape a home in flames?

                   -from Ghost Lights