Patrick Donnelly

One and a Half Poems
August 14, 2012 Donnelly Patrick

In Which I Explain Why I Set the Fire


 Well it began with a microburst from the North when the moon

was hot and bright on the Twenty-Sixth of the Fifth Month.

The first obstacle that wind met was the top of a White Pine

in the Neighbor of the Right’s yard, which it shoved aslant

the transformer with a flash, killing the a/c for three days

and spoiling the fish. The Other White Pine, its mate,

the one I think of as male, didn’t break. But afterward every time

I walked to the mailbox I had to say “One Broken, One Whole,”

and lift my hands over my head, whether I liked it or not.


The same night, the Sycamore of the Hayfield of the Right,

the one to which we make offerings at the New Year,

let fall into its crotch a log tall as a man. This tree

already weirdly suckled a Young Mimosa

in a few cups of soil in a high vertical cleft,

which explains why the Sycamore is worthy,

and why, not caring that drivers would stare,

I used to clap my hands each time I passed!

But when the wind gave the Sycamore this lingam,


a Member taller than a man, it was disturbing and not irrelevant.

I tried to lift and lay the extra part parallel to the road,

but it was heavier than three rough men bound together

(mechanics, say, or gas jockeys with slashes of black lubricant on their cheeks),

and I could not. One of the tree crews, gangs of bravoes

that came from this state and Connecticut and Vermont

lifted the crown and shoulders of the Female White Pine off the wires,

cut her into thirty-inch rounds and trucked all but the sawdust away.

But because to a rude man they had No Visual Sense,


they left the bollard-log hung from the Sycamore.

Which the Farmer of the Right also did nothing to rectify.

Nor was this all. At the North Border of the Hayfield of the Left,

a Poplar Shaped Like a Champagne Flute fell

perpendicular to the road that splits the Two Hayfields.

Perpendicular is better than crooked—of course—

though this turned up a clump of root that could scrape

the paint off the Right Side of Your Car

as you drive toward our house. But this also was not all.


            The tree did not die though prostrated forty-point-five feet

into the Hayfield of the Left, which then no longer formed

a neat rectangle as seen from the house. No longer perfect,

it hurt me. The Farmer of the Left did not come with a chainsaw

and cut the Champagne Flute flush to the tree line,

nor with a backhoe and a thick cable to right it.

No—after that he let the Flute lie recumbent and mowed around it,

for which there was…good Lord, no word.

What would you have called it? How


would you have fixed it, this dish of dog mess,

God mess, flung to the Six Directions?

I lived this way as long as I could. I tried

to breathe release, be tolerant, busy myself inside.

Now I don’t apologize—

the only way to cauterize a wound is with fire.

Oh it hurt me, but now it is better.


Wipe your feet. Don’t track the ash inside.



Poem Contradicting the Previous Poem


He says the owner of the hay field did nothing,

and it is true he waited almost a year.

But on the last day of April three men came with a truck,

a tractor, and a chain saw, cut the fallen tree,

pulled the brush into the woods, and left

only tire tracks on the new grass.

There was no fire. There was never any fire.

Patrick Donnelly is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Little-Known Operas (Four Way Books, 2019) and the forthcoming Willow Hammer (Four Way Books, spring 2025). With his spouse Stephen D. Miller, he translates classical Japanese poetry and drama. He is director of the Poetry Seminar at The Frost Place, Robert Frost’s old homestead in Franconia, NH, now a center for poetry and the arts. More at