Rebecca Foust

Things Burn Down

My parents wouldn’t come back for damask
napkins or oysters in frilly white shells.
If you understand, you won’t have to ask
how Gramma knew linen—soiled, in the wash
she took in each week, or why she had to sell
baked goods in the street off “white trash damask,”
yesterday’s newspaper. Papap hauled ash
or laid brick; he was skilled with a trowel
but there was no work, understand? Don’t ask
what keeps a man from filling his flask
with what he’d divined from the wells he’d drilled
with his own hands, or why Dad’s damask
was a gray square he hacked on to clear ash
from his throat. Thick smoke from the papermill
all day and night, understand? No one asked
in those days if that shit could kill you. As track
spread in congeries from the repair yards, fields
disappeared. Cinder and soot, more soot—damask
was work in that town. Mom found a dog lashed
to a tree, starved to bone. Too many mouths to feed,
do you understand that? She didn’t ask
for much more than Sears Roebuck placemats
and babies that lived. What Dad loved was bells
and sirens, to watch things burn down. So ask
what would bring my dead folks back, and I’d guess
garage sales, four-alarm fire bells, red squalls
of new babies, maybe a Bratwurst and beer
served on an unfolded Altoona Mirror. Not damask,
not fingerbowls for Christ’s sake. If you don’t
get it by now, don’t ask.

Rebecca Foust
“Things Burn Down” first appeared in Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, Vol. 11.2, 11.3 & 12.1.