A Course in Arson || William Doreski

My summer school course in arson
has gone well. Twelve students
planning their final projects.
I’ve set only a couple of rules.
They aren’t allowed to burn the school,
and can’t use gasoline because
it leaves such obvious traces.
Most plan to burn the family home
or business, collect the insurance
to pay their school-year tuition.
The classroom wilts in summer heat.
We discuss the use of wood shavings
or sawdust to start a good hot fire.
We compare beeswax with other,
less expensive candles. Students
argue about the propriety
of using votive candles to spark
crimes that priests in confession
might file among deadly sins.
While we discuss this, fire breaks out
in St Bernard’s, just down the street.
The roar of flames is deafening.
The stained glass explodes in colors
more exciting than a car crash.
A flaming nun falls from a tower,
streaking like a banshee. No,
it’s only a clot of burning drapery
that puddles smoking on the sidewalk.
Can any student take credit for
this brave sectarian disaster?
No, a drunken priest let a candle
touch his alb. Panicked, he shed it
into a richly upholstered pew
and ran out leaving the big doors
yawning with elegant boredom.
The engines, screaming, arrive
in a glitz of enamel and chrome.
Firefighters attack with hoses
thick as pythons. We return
to the classroom, shivering,
lusty, and thrilled, every student
determined to match fire with fire,
the orange glare caught in their gaze
and the smell of ash on their breath.

William Doreski’s work has appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently, A Black River, A Dark Fall (2018).

Originally published in the FALL 2018 edition of the Helix.