Library of Congress

Poetry and Literature

The Library of Congress > Poetry & Literature > Poetry of America > Full List of Readings > Rosanna Warren reads Herman Melville > Fire
{ site_name: 'Poetry', subscribe_url:'/share/sites/library-of-congress/poetry.php' }

Back to Rosanna Warren reads Herman Melville

Fire

It would take a voodoo skull, one eye darkened,
one candlelit, to see

into these pictures. Who set that fire? Who piled
that cliff to smoke? The newsprint

is jaundiced, ripped at the edge.
I set that file, I piled

that bombastic, mountaining smoke.
I mound it up every night and I don’t haul anyone out.

The bodies are stiff, like little T squares.
It’s not clear what geometry problem they solve.

The ditch is a rampart.
The live ones, turbaned, stand on the upper rim.

Bombed trucks burn rectangularly.
The books on Mutanabi Street make a chunky oatmeal mush.

This world, the same for all, was shaped by no god or man
but always was and will be

an everlasting fire, said Heraclitus. And the child
in the charred room reaches out to touch the wall:

the furniture’s burned, his father’s shot, the mirror
reflects only the camera flash.

We found fire in our souls before
we stole it from heaven.

Now we are the lords of light
and the darkroom is ours.

—Rosanna Warren

“Fire” Rosanna Warren from Ghost in a Red Hat. Copyright Rosanna Warren, 2011.

Reprinted by permission of the author and W.W. Norton & Company.

Rosanna Warren

Rosanna Warren

Rosanna Warren (1953- ) was born in Connecticut and educated at Yale University and Johns Hopkins University. She is a professor at the University of Chicago, an editor, a literary translator, and has published four books of poetry. Her work Stained Glass (1993) was named the Lamont Poetry Selection by the Academy of American Poets. Warren served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999 to 2005.

Learn more about Rosanna Warren at The Poetry Foundation