Frames of Reference

Black smoke from brick kilns
                       obscures framed Iraqi hills.
                                             New shot: caked hands lift

wooden forms, fingers
                        dry as the parched ground they pack.
                                                Now I’m inhaling

childhood fires, the stink
                       of gas we poured out and lit
                                              on a patch of grass

behind the big house—
                       pleasure that turned panicky—
                                              our stomping feet just

made the flames jump, catch
                        on the cuffs of jeans and shoes.
                                                I thought we were dead.

No one ever knew
                      what scalded that grass except
                                             my brother and me.

I can’t smell mortar,
                       only see what this movie shows.

rifles through dry facts.
                        Women bend their backs to it,
                                               scrape off humps of clay

to smooth faceless bricks
                       and rebuild a ziggurat.
                                                Next, a funeral.

The body sits up
                       as flames tighten the muscles.
                                               It bows once, then breaks.
DAVID SULLIVAN'S first book, Strong-Armed Angels, was published by Hummingbird Press, and two of its poems were read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac. His current manuscript, Devils Messengers, concerns the Iraq war. He is a professor of literature and film at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, where he edits The Porter Gulch Literary Review.