Why Being “On Fire” Is for Everyone

By Iyawó (Kristin Naca)

Man on Fire, 1969, by Luis Jiménez

Because the facial features burn fastest.

Because the sun sets in Tibet before it ever rises in the West.

Because Tsering Tashi’s mother told him to dress in the thickest, 
finest, llama wool chuba.

For I find no flattering explanation for the murder of everyone.

Flames consume the head, hands, and feet in the mural by Orozco.

Because monks don’t even eat meat.

His clothes made him torch; still Thích Quảng Đức’s heart would not fire.

Because his remains stiffened when they tried to place him in a tomb.

Because what is the point of murdering everyone in the world?

Since the sun sets in Vietnam before it reaches the West.

Because aren’t the faceless Mexicans always the ones we martyr?

Why do heretic Indians hurry to incinerate themselves at the stake?

Are you awake enough to remember how we clarify the skin of our slaves?

To feel the fingers of the children of thread flame stitching your voluminous rugs?

The candles in the basilica flicker when they channel the nightmares of the dead.

Because Jiménez wept when the mammoth blue mustang leg fell from heaven, rupturing the artery in his leg.

Because of Chinese soldiers armed to protect Tiananmen Square from monks burning to set themselves ablaze.

Luis says he’s sorry for the pain he caused you having to finish his stallion.
You can read the rest of the PINTURA : PALABRA portfolio in the March 2016 issue of Poetry. All images in this portfolio are courtesy of and with permission from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Man on Fire by Luis Jiménez, gift of Philip Morris Incorporated © 1969, Luis Jiménez. 
Source: Poetry (March 2016)
More Poems by Kristin Naca