There are houses on fire every night here. It doesn’t seem a sin
to let them burn. It doesn’t scare me
to wake up to their ghosts still hanging skyward — a siren in the War
Streets, its doppelgänger spotted in Garfield
clear across the city tucked tight between smokestacks smacked
along every shore, barge-brown rivers
in a slow grind against the Allegheny plateau. Nothing much changes here.
It was built this way and it was built to burn —
I like it like that. After all, what is water without steel to cross it,
a mountain that you cannot pierce,
a city without forest all around? Here is where autumn comes to die
on stone steps and gridless, potholed streets.
I spend my days by a cathedral watching traffic swell and swirl. I spend
my time like a poem spends its lines
trying to find where to pause and where to stop. Most endings
and pauses I find can hurt. One time,
I loved somebody. One time, I crossed this street when I was in love.
Time will damage anything if you let it,
so we’ve built this place to last, placed placards of history along the streets,
and landmarked any building that dares to crumble.
This is Pittsburgh: black and gold bones buried deep, dinosaurs
at cobblestone intersections wrapped in scarves,
hundred-ton iron ladles frozen in shopping districts — we only fight each other
about what doesn’t get to stay. Sometimes
on these stone steps, I fight myself about what to keep and what remember.
My heart is a museum where all the exhibits
are closed. Love in this city comes as often as the sun, the reset of September
pulling clouds over Mount Washington
where I lived and worked, where some nights I’d walk its edge and see
houses burning on the horizon, and feel
the flames in my chest. I didn’t have a word for it then. All I knew
was the feeling of coming home in the evening
to my roommate on his computer watching videos of chess masters
playing each other, the silence of him
slumped sideways on the sofa, stacks of Nietzsche and Jung casting shadows
on half-full-half-empty coffee cups, eyes heavy
with the shade of the room, a reflection of Bobby Fisher in his glasses,
hand on the rook and my roommate’s hand
on the trackpad — history with the slide of a finger.
- Cameron Barnett
Cameron Barnett holds a master of fine arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was poetry editor for Hot Metal Bridge, and co-coordinator of Pitt’s Speakeasy Reading Series. He currently is an associate poetry editor for Pittsburgh Poetry Review. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Lines + Stars, The Minnesota Review, Barely South Review and TriQuarterly. He lives in Greenfield with his roommate and her two cats: Goose and Lorna D. Many writers featured in Chapter & Verse are guests of Prosody, produced by Jan Beatty and Ellen Wadey. Prosody airs every Saturday morning on WESA 90.5 FM.