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Why Being “On Fire” Is for Everyone

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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)

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This poem originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Poetry magazine

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Why Being “On Fire” Is for Everyone

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  • Kristin Naca, also known as Iyawó, earned a BA from the University of Washington, an MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh, and a PhD in English from the University of Nebraska. Her collection of poems, Bird Eating Bird (2009), was selected by Yusef Komunyakaa for the mtvU National Poetry Series.
     
    Naca’s poetry explores her multicultural Puerto Rican and Filipina heritage, sexuality, and interest in linguistics. A selection of poems in Bird Eating Bird are written in Spanish, a language that Naca learned in order to better understand her Puerto Rican background. In an interview for Bombsite.com, she explained that “the poems document my mouth conforming to the sounds of words.” Naca also described the process of intense revision in completing her collection as “doing reverse taxidermy, refitting the poems’ skins around clouds of ideas.”
     
    Bird Eating Bird was a 2010 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and Naca was awarded an Honorable...

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