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The Burnt Child

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Matches among other things that were not allowed
never would be
lying high in a cool blue box
that opened in other hands and there they all were
bodies clean and smooth blue heads white crowns
white sandpaper on the sides of the box scoring
fire after fire gone before

I could hear the scratch and flare
when they were over
and catch the smell of the striking
I knew what the match would feel like
when I was very young

a fire engine came and parked
in the shadow of the big poplar tree
on Fourth Street one night
keeping its engine running
pumping oxygen to the old woman
in the basement
when she died the red lights went on burning

W. S. Merwin, “The Burnt Child” from Flower & Hand: Poems 1977-1983 (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1997). Copyright © 1997 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted with the permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc.
Source: Opening the Hand (Copper Canyon Press, 1983)
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The Burnt Child

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