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.




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