Three Poems

Nicholas Reading
 About the Writer

Nicholas Reading is the author of the chapbook The Party In Question (Burnside Review Press, 2007). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Bat City Review, jubilat, Nimrod, Painted Bride Quarterly, and San Pedro River Review. He also serves as the Managing Editor for Sport Literate. 


              - Southgate, KY 1977


As families arrive comics rehearse bits. As

bar-backs fold towels. As napkins and bottles

are checked and emptied. As another ticket


is sold. Tables are filled. Waitresses, line-cooks,

and busboys working the Labor Day shift.

As bands warm up. As aluminum wiring


and John Davidson catch again. As if

there was a neat way that it could end. Calm

announcements suggested evacuation.


As on-lookers shrugged. As flames slipped through

the kitchen onto the stage. As chairs became hazards.

As though doors would open to hundreds as stairs


began to sag, smoke running down to the river.

As our feet stepped over bodies left underneath

feet slipping outdoors. As names were called.


As my name was called over smoke

smelling like Ohio. As sirens.

As around the corner. As a mother.


As if everybody was lucky. As more bodies.

As the Fort Thomas Armory morgue.

As a historical marker. As we remember it.






            The Fable

It reached three-hundred-fifty degrees

that day, warping trash-can lids,

melting tricycles’ tires. Road kill cooked

like hams and the river got heatstroke.


            Around The Neighborhood

All of the dog catchers went on strike. The dogs,

for their part, found shade in the junkyard until

crows descended and picked them clean. There was

no difference between the bones and the metal.


            Professional Help

When one doctor caught fire from the shine

off one syringe every nurse followed suit.

Ambulances were renovated into ice boxes

for the survivors and rivers began to fill.


            The Children’s Lesson

The front door blocked the afternoon’s

entrance into the house. To their delight, the heat

broke every family’s lawn mower. And at night

the kids still around kicked a can in the woods.


            Around Every Dinner Table

Husbands and wives listed the bills

that hadn’t been paid. They rationed stamps

and gin. Boiled pasta and a sauce with no garlic.

Not a scent of spice to cover the spoilt flesh.


            The Reality

Work was cancelled. Schools let out and churches

took down their steeples. One boy tried

to fly away from his bedroom window. A girl

with wishes in her hair followed him to the cliffs.






Days put you to sleep. Walking errands you wake

            months late.

And they’re all out when you arrive. Details recalled:


            it was overcast.

The joke is so many people stayed in line. Boys held hats

            like offering plates.


I imagine none of us had been to church for years

            for a reason.

Once in a grocery, somewhere in West Virginia


            I was in line with beer

when all the lights flashed off. It was mid-afternoon.

            No one flinched


but me. We bought our macaroni and beef stew

            in silence.

Evening and its wings soon enveloped us all


            and I didn’t know

I was a part. Now it seems there isn’t a town

            that I don’t


try to leave behind. Driving over the bridge


every morning I think this will be the last time.


            Pass a livestock trailer.

Blur solid lines as youth become cashiers

            at the corner gas


saying over and over, go back the way you came.

            Turn at the light.

You’ll pass the inn or stay forever. You can’t miss it.