Nothing at all


I watched the flicker of fire

On the upturned faces of poor folk

Huddled along the sidewalk

That terrible dark Labor Day

And I ached to help them.


Me, hidden in the third floor

Attic space of my Passaic Street

Rooming house as fire trucks

Filled the street with gushing water

And fire filled the sky

With blazing smoke


No disaster had come

So close to me as this one did,

We waiting at the window

For the knock on the door

To tell us we were next

To leave


All we owned waiting

For the flames to devour

As these had those owned

By the people on the street

Their faces filled with despair

I could not yet fully comprehend

Their lives sent in new directions

After two punk kids

With a pack of matches

Set the world in flame

Like I had at their age

Only I’d never gotten caught


My uncle on the telephone

Telling me not to do anything rash,

Telling me I can’t help them

Or even myself

By getting myself killed,
to let go when they tell me to

To stay silent about the misery

I see in the faces around me


“Don’t make things worse,

By sticking your nose

Where it doesn’t belong,”

He told me. “Don’t do

What we you always do,”

No matter how much

I ached to do it,


And in that darkness

That was no longer dark

In that cool night

Overheated by fear

And anguish and flame

In that room near that window

Watching doom fall over

Those upturned faces,

I know I could not do

What I always otherwise do

That I could not nothing,

Nothing at all.




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