The airship rode low, heavy with rain from a squall.
Her charts indicated miles of open sea.
The floating city wasn’t supposed to occupy that space.
From the square, a little girl stared at travellers
waving from the ship’s observation deck
and reached out, wanting to see the pretty women up close.
And the city, to please her, reached out, too.
How could she have known what she was asking?
The chain sparked and the craft’s silver skin caught flame.
The city provides: staples in the cupboard, books on the shelf,
crepe in the dressmaker’s window— the scarlet dress
with small white dots all the women wore that year.
The city brought the cabin boy.
From the debutantes and the handsome suits,
the city chose only the child.
He fell from the fiery husk, screaming.
The metal framework and his form sillouhetted, char-black in the sky.
The washerwoman bathed him in the fountain that night,
loosening fragments of coarse uniform melted into raw skin.
Water sluiced over his back, blisters red as her dress.
The cloud cover burned from the city;
for once, the sky revealed angry and flaming.
His entire body formed a map of scars:
the city at that moment forever caught in skin.
Now-lost neighborhoods, stretched to pink shine,
skim shoulder blade, torso, calf.
Once I slept between the ribs of a silver beast
with steamer trunks and a Rolls Royce.
The catwalk thrummed underfoot
with the steps of my crewmates.
A ship painted with rocket fuel.
My great adventure, an exile.
The motorcar pitched from the hold,
flame winging out like a terrible chariot.
The trunks broke open against the city’s streets.
I survived. The burned boy, the man who burns.
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