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In the greatness of the flame he gave up the ghost

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, XI

The poplars are emptied at dusk
like blown matches. A gust frees
and scatters the leaves in their last blaze:
the bronze husks catch and cartwheel
round and down the street to the park
in the smoke of a dark autumn,
from the thin, extinguished trees.

In the small lake, what had once been water
now was seamed with smoke,
marbled and macular,
dim and deep as wax,
with each stick and twig like a spilled wick
in the dulling hollow of the sconce:
metamorphosis in the cancelled pond.

By midnight the ice was dished, percussive,
blue-black under a bone moon.
Skipping stones on its steel deck
gave the sound of thrown springs,
railway lines, or fence-wire, singing.
I had scored a tracery of leaving, a map engraved,
a thrilling in the air.

After the park, the garden,
and the bright litter of the night’s display:
a stubble of burnt-out cones and candles,
cold star-shells, burst and charred,
a catherine wheel fused to the bark;
scorched bottles, tapers; smoke, hanging;
the softening box on its bed of ash.

Hands cupped around a match’s flame:
the blue twist of smoke. Petrol
is the fifth element: opening
a door in the night I can leave through.
Across the city, a scratch of light
disappears. I hear its stick
clattering in the trees.

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