In the Days after the Earthquake
—At an elementary school, May 12, 2008, Sichuan Province in southern China
He carried the tenth, and then the one hundredth
small bundle into the room and with every step
ashes blew up into his face, covering his lashes
with a veil that might never leave.
Swirling eddies of ash blew around his heavy feet,
as he lay yet another small burden on the hot metal table.
Wood was brought in again and another fire kindled,
another fire kindled.
Here was true alchemy, as the solid gold of small hearts
became particles indistinguishable from the heart
of a dead star, floating dark and sullen in the deeps
of space, where no sound ever stirred to wind or water.
He was a magician, then, and his own heart burned up
with each small bundle carried into the hot room.
Ashes blew up the muddy hill and settled on the ruined school.
Rhonda Palmer is a poet and hospice nurse working and writing in Columbus, Ohio. She was most recently published in Heather Rose Review and Ars Medica.