Bill Burtis




My father waved me away
the night before he died
the way the policeman
gestured the crowd back
just before the walls curled in
and the collapsed church
rose in a flower of flame
followed by a billion
tiny orange lights
crazing the whole black sky.
And we, my father and I
and a hundred others
who had lined the pew rows,
passing candlesticks and crosses,
hymnals and cushions, out
to the storm-cooled safety
of that summer evening,
stood and lost our breath
in the blush of heat
when the roof
and the walls
fell in. Then there was
just the hiss and pop
and the thrum of the engines
and the stars coming back
one by one.
I think my father
put his hand
on my shoulder. I don’t
remember if he cried
with everyone else.
He may have chosen
to spare me that
when he could,
saving the wave
for the time
when he could not.