The Lexington Market Fire

by Shelley Puhak

Baltimore: March 25, 1949

Clutching handfuls of steel-
cut oatmeal to ash she waits, famished
in a single stall

when the ice dealers open it
she gulps air and dashes out,

tubs of daffodils, hyacinth, lilac,
tearing through aisles of victuals and viands,
long hem dripping flames

lobsters death-whistle, boiling in their tanks
while pulled-taffy droops liquid, fresh-flaked
coconut snaps,

goose skin puckers, crisps, and she licks drippings
off her lips. Outside, twenty-four engines, six

in the nearby hospital ready to evacuate:
new mothers ginger with fresh stitches and
leaking nipples

while she pops unshucked oysters, deep-fries fresh
muskrat, incinerates crabcakes and, with
their wax paper

melted in her teeth,
slurps up the juice at the bottom
of a smoking oak pickle barrel.

SHELLEY PUHAK lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her first collection, Stalin in Aruba, was released by Black Lawrence Press in 2009. Her poems appear in Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, New South, and other journals.