Learning to Pray as Rome Burns

by H. E. Riddleton Issue: Spring/Summer 2021

In Australia, something chemical—
as all things are— crosses out the sun
infusing the charred body of the koala

to the charred body of the tree.
My mother tells me to pray
to the goddess in the form of the New

Caledonian crow, but what if fire
is the only god left? A line of bleeding

                shadow constructs the distance between

light and combustion. On the beach
people wait     //displaced//     by another sun. 
                                     Black balloons swell, storm
up.   Incendiary      dust       parades
indifferent through the memorandum 
of walls—   livelihood of what
                            keeps in and keeps out.    Differentiation 
is lost here.     All is made
into foamy-mouthed           monism.
              The formula for fire    the sticky
loofah that shrieks to clean  
is that there is     no   formula.    Just tar
                    in the lungs    dehydrated 
          skulls    trees    drinkers of carbon 
burning     what is absorbed
              expelled into that terrible red. The old
crone of a crow goddess calls in
her children    the glossy black cockatoo  

the pouched frog. They are acclimated 
into apotheosis   cheap allegory   made
almost bodiless        almost departed

from the earth altogether. We
thought we could control it,
that what is cooked in the hole

is distinguished from who is doing 
the cooking          but then a flash 
a burning bush
our divination through coal.
 



H. E. Riddleton

H. E. Riddleton is a neurodivergent, mentally ill poetess who, in addition to writing and trying to survive daily life, is an undergrad English major at the University of Texas in Arlington. She is a wandering, fluttering hippie in search of the prettiest leaf, a better world, and a healthier and more loving self. Some of her publications can be found in The Visitant, Not Very Quiet, and No Tokens Journal.