“Burned Man” by David Huddle

When I was twelve, a man was burned
not quite to death at my father’s
factory. Recovered enough
to walk the town, he didn’t know
what to do with himself—a ghost
whose scarred, fire bubbled face made you
look away, though not my father
who felt responsible and so wouldn’t
refuse the man’s eyes when they fell
upon him. The burned man held no
grudge, thought the accident his
own fault, and sought my father out
as the one whose eyes told him yes,
he was still alive.
So they held long
conversations on the post office
stoop, which I observed from the car
where I waited, where I could read
my father’s stiff shoulders, the way
he clutched the mail, how he tilted
his head, even his smile that was
in truth a grimace. I knew just
what my mother knew—my father
had to let himself be tortured
once or twice a week, whenever
Bernard Sawyers saw him in town,
lifted his claw of a hand, rasped
out his greeting that sounded like
a raven that’d been taught to say
Hello, Mr. Huddle, how are you?
They’d stand there talking in the town’s
blazing sunlight, the one whom fire
had taken to the edge of death
and the other invisibly
burning while they passed the time of day.

“Burned Man” by David Huddle. © David Huddle.

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3 Responses to “Burned Man” by David Huddle

  1. Wow, powerful poem. Did you hear the story on NPR this morning about the documentary on women in Pakistan whose faces are disfigured by acid? I know this is different, but this poem feels connected.

  2. Jerome Bloom says:

    WWII
    MY FATHER
    WORKED
    IN A
    WARPLANT
    AMACHINIST
    MAKING
    PRECISION VALVES
    FOR
    SUBMARINES,
    HE THOUGHT

    WHEN
    THE WAR ENDED

    A
    DOE OFFICIAL
    VISITED
    AND
    PRESENTED
    THE WORKERS
    WITH
    AN EXPLANATION
    AND
    A PIN
    GOLDEN
    SMALLROUND
    LAPEL OR TIE TACK
    IN THE CENTER
    “A GOLDEN E IN A BLUE FIELD(SKY) ”

    I FOUND IT IN A BOX
    RUMAGING THROUGH
    DRESSER DRAWERS

    WHEN I CAME HOME
    FROM MY OWN
    MILITARY TIME

    I ASKED HIM
    ABOUT THIS PIN

    HE SEEMED ASHAMED
    “IT’S FROM
    THE
    DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
    I HELPED MAKE THE
    ATOMIC BOMB,”

    HE SAID
    I HID IT AWAY
    COULD NOT LOOK AT IT
    I FEEL RESPONSIBLE
    FOR ALL THAT TERRRIBLE HORROR…………………………………………………………………………

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