In a sand and gravel pit
in the former Yugoslavia,
now the Republic of Croatia,
I’m trying to build a bonfire
with scraps of wood the color
of bones from the Second World War.
Overhead jetliners scorch a path
to Athens, Istanbul, Vienna.
The clear winter sun is blinding.
No one looks down to see me crouched
by an idle blue flame wisping
from a teepee of fractured pine.
Impossible to get warm enough
to avenge the slaughter that followed
the Germans in 1941.
But the little blue flame trembles
in memory of Jews, Gypsies, Serbs,
and everyone else who perished
in the garble of machine guns
or as oily soot above Auschwitz.
Farmers working nearby may catch
a sniff of this burning wood,
but unless they spot me shivering
at this pyre they won’t understand.
Of course I don’t believe in prayer
but I believe that smoke carries spirits
as high as the atmosphere allows,
then disperses them among the stars
that with grave indifference accept
even the grimmest forms of worship.
Folded into the hills a steeple,
white and capped with gray shingles,
spears a ragged scrap of Heaven.
Indifferent to Ottoman rule
churches like this held their ground
against every common heresy.
Maybe my little bonfire will spread
a thousand vicious rumors
to ignite a hundred, a thousand
little churches; and maybe then
the jetliners will notice the smoke
and wonder who is burning.