Land war will require the most complex
combat flying ever flown, with more tragedies
of friendly fire inevitable.
—CNN Newscast, 2/4/91
Heraclitean, for instance: the world as a gaseous
Shimmer, like afterburner fumes in the oily night sky
Outside Carbondale, where lovers pass through the flux
Of the heart’s napalm—or alchemical: the transformative image
Of the sun over Dallas, antiseptic if you could touch it,
Tritely ætherial, the volatile gold of gas-well burnoff
On the freeway’s horizon, cauterizing, uncorrupting bone—
We could imagine anything. Suppose we pulled a lever
And every carburetor in Charlottesville
Detonated in a transcendental rush of vesicatory gas
And oxyacetylene? What would we think we were seeing?
What residue would remain?
I think it would be elemental.
I think it would be pure. I think it would give off the smell
Of brass, chrysanthemums, caustic old velour—
Or that strange metallic odor that drags my grandmother’s face
Up from the flare of my neurons, where the innocent dead all go:
A bombed-out country no body belongs to, untouchable, chemical, clean.