Poem

How He Loved Them

Kevin Prufer

How much the colonel loved his granddaughters
you will never know.
                           Their laughter filled his black Mercedes
the way a flock of starlings might fill a single tree
with song.
              What he’d had to do that day, he’d done
with a troubled heart,
                            but now their laughter overwhelmed him
with such unarticulable love
                                    he could hardly
contain it
             and neither could the empathetic little bomb
in the engine,
                  which chose that moment
to burst through the hood with self-obliterating joy.

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And the Mercedes burned in front of the courthouse.

And the black smoke billowed and rose like a heart full of love.

And the colonel rose, too,
                                 like burning newspaper
caught in the wind,
                         a scrap of soot, then nothing, then unknowable—

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You will never know
                          what dying is like.

The colonel’s granddaughters are still laughing in the backseat,

or they are uncomfortable in the new bodies
the bomb made for them.

Oh, darling, darling, one of them recalled,
you are burning up
                         with fever—her mother’s cool hand on her forehead,
then the sense of slipping under,
                                          into black sleep. She’s asleep now,
the voice said, turning out the light,
                                              closing the door.

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And in every hand, smartphones made footage
of their bodies,
                    the heaps and twists of metal.

The smoke uploaded the wreckage
                                             to the screenlike sky
where it goes on burning forever—

you will never know if dying is like that,
the same scenes repeated across a larger mind
                                                             than yours—

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Is it like a small girl with a high fever asleep in a dark room
recollected for a moment
                                 as the brain closes down?
She’s asleep, the voices say, she is resting.

(My fleeting one, my obliterated device, my bit of pixilated
soot.) Hit PAUSE
                     and the smoke stops: a black pillar
that weighs the wreckage down.
                                          Then PLAY
how much he loved them,
                                  unknowable—

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What the colonel had done that day
                                              had troubled his heart,
but the sound of his granddaughters’ laughter
lifted him high into the air
                                   like a scrap of burning paper
blown from the street into the trees.

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