Vicissitude by Bill Quinn


Winter 1960, a nor’easter raged,
deep snow, high winds, no visibility
and power out.
Dad didn’t make it home.
House dark
and cold.
Fireplace lit.
The room darkened as
the last log slowly
turned to ember.
Mom said,
“Get your school books.”
Feeling my way, found
my first grade reader.
Older sister brought a small pile.
“Throw one on the fire,” Mom said.
She stared for a moment,
gave a long hard look at Mom,
then gently tossed her math book in.
The flames livened,
swirling across the knowledge.
Pages curled up
as beauty twirled between them.
Hours went by as
book after book was sacrificed.
We saw our shadows
dancing on the walls
and laughed when we made
shadow puppets.
We roasted marshmallows.
“We’ll eat better tomorrow,”
Mom said.
We smiled at her.

Books gone.
Fire small.
Time to sleep.
My bedroom was
a mud room,
boots moved aside and
a small mattress
placed on the floor
every night.
Shivering under my old army blanket,
I asked Mom
if the door could stay open tonight.

by Bill Quinn

Editor’s Note: This narrative poem tells its story through imagery that feels both ominous and playful, and it’s this juxtaposition that truly convinces the reader of the fear that only becomes evident in the final line.


One response to “Vicissitude by Bill Quinn”

  1. richardsund Avatar

    This poem really captures a host of feelings by means of small details. There is something spooky about the events: burning school books, sleeping in the mud room, the father not home – things unspoken.

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