Washburn A Mill Explosion, Minneapolis, 1878

by Therese Elizabeth Lydon

You’ve never known confusion
until you’ve watched fire flood
out of basement window panes,
gasping for air, a soldier
pounding at your door

You’ve never known shock
until you’ve watched
the light overflow

Since when does fire
have a current?

You’ve never known fear
until you’ve seen
a seven-story ceiling
shoot up like the top
of a pressure cooker,
bursting at its boiling point

You’ve never known terror
until you heard it,
like a bomb—
three bombs—
ten miles out,
and we thought
the war was over

You’ve never known panic
until you’ve witnessed
a body burning but still breathing
only to be engulfed by flames
and reappear melted to the bone
barely a skull, a spine, a soul
You’ve never known fragility
until you saw it all —
the industry, the building, the security —
as simply bricks on pavement,
taken down by flour dust
and a single spark
waiting to burn

You’ve never known gratitude
until you were the one
who stood on the sidewalk,
skin un-scorched, brain unburned,
your toes still cold

You’ve never known guilt
until you were the one who
was supposed to be in there,
late for the night shift, always,
a clog in the machine

You’ve never known despair
until you realized
the fire wasn’t going to stop
at the A. Mill
and you
were on
the wrong side
of the Mississippi river.

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