The Clothes of Children Claimed by Fire
Remembering the 1988 Carrollton, Kentucky crash,
once the highest bus death toll in U.S. history.
It was a hot start to summer in early May
when Kentucky church kids on a bus
were trapped inside a fiery crash,
igniting what was already a warm night outdoors
into a 2,000 degree day inside,
turning children, upholstery, rubber and steel
into fifty-nine candles on a blazing cake.
Not many days thereafter
the victims’ parents began to show
at Christian missions and Kingdom Halls
arms full with empty clothes,
as if babies had slithered out,
through arm sleeves or legs of jeans
like tunnels in a McDonald’s PlayPlace,
before being caught mid-air
by the quick hands of God.
But here, where there is not enough
we know what the right thing is
but are too poor to do.
So unlike the children once adorned,
the clothes of kids claimed by fire
could be resuscitated,
and readied to go on living.
For days we laundered stains
until the last of stubborn grass
and earth and trees trapped
on elbows, chests and knees
gave up what hid in common thread.
Then the clothes were folded and boxed
and, on a Sunday, given to the living poor.
Where parking lots filled early
as next-to-nothings formed a somber line
in the hope to see or touch or own
garments transmogrified, closer to God,
with value beyond measure
in the temporal world.
MICHAEL MAUL is currently living on Florida’s Gulf Coast. His poems have appeared in literary publications in and outside the U.S., and in anthologies that include The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2015 and the Best of Boston Literary Magazine 2005-2015. He is also a past winner of the Mercantile Library Prize for Fiction.