Friday, April 25, 2014

Fire At The Asylum For The Violently Insane, 1918

Willard Grave Marker by Lisa Gordon

 
Forty pine coffins in the red dirt -
lined up like soldiers,
lined up like sutures;
lined up like teeth in the smile of a boy
with a sulphur head match
and fists full of boredom and last straws
dry as tinder.
 
The sparks embered quick in the south wind.
Quick as the steam whistle's scream split the night.
Quick as the bucket brigades
could wet the wood walls down.
 
The boys
fought rescue.
 
Maybe, 
I would have, too.

Still editing and tweaking this one.
 
In April of 1918, there was a fire at the Asylum for the Violently Insane in Norman, Oklahoma.  Forty died in the fire; at least half were boys between the ages of ten and fifteen.  Two days later the victims were buried in a mass grave.  The location of the unmarked grave was recently rediscovered.
 
For Margaret's prompt at Real Toads.  I'm sorry, Margaret, if I failed to get as much first person as you had in mind.

21 comments:

razzamadazzle said...

This is just horrific and chilling. Your brevity is perfect for this. Great use of simile.

Sylvia K said...

I do so agree!!! Heart breaking!

Susan said...

Yikes. Self immolation horrifies me, even in groups, even if "accidental." This seems planned, whether by inmate or out mate. It must have been worse than hell. I think you capture that.

hedgewitch said...

I knew about the asylum in Norman(had a friend whose parents put him there for dodging the draft) but not about the fire--this is horrific, and so real I feel that I have soot on my face and nightmares from watching.

Jinksy said...

lined up like teeth in the smile of a boy with a sulphur head match
and fists full of boredom
and last straws
dry as tinder

That sure it potent writing...

Fireblossom said...

A fire like that is shocking enough on its own, but the detail of how they fought rescue--and then your closing lines--add another layer. Very disturbing, extremely vivid, and a fantastic choice of subject.

Buddah Moskowitz said...

This is the best movie I've seen in a while - excellent.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Between ages TEN and FIFTEEN in an insane asylum? Likely from horrible homes, from bad to worse. This prompt has taught me a lot of sad facts. The photo of the numbered "resting place" is saddest of all. A life, born glorious and full of promise, under a marker with the number 96.

Sumana Roy said...

heart-rending...

grapeling said...

stunning, both subject and pen, MZ ~

Susie Clevenger said...

With a handful of words you captured the horror...

blueoran said...

The conflagration in this steadily builds: a mass grave at an asyslum, the fire lit (perhaps) by one of its own, the inmates fighting rescue, the speaker deciding on which side of sane the wall s/he is. Or can be.

Yvonne Osborne said...

For me, this tells it all:
"the boys fought rescue,
maybe, I would have too."

Hell yes.

Hellish good.

Grandmother (Mary) said...

Imagine- little boys... you captured the whole damnable reality in this.

manicddaily said...

Really well done, MZ. k.

Kathryn said...

lined up like teeth in the smile of a boy . . . hardbreakingly visual.

Gail said...

"...last straws dry as tinder..."

I love how your mind works.

Mimi Foxmorton said...

Violently insane.....the most chilling insane of all...you can feel it deep within your words.

Lorraine Renaud said...

horrific and incredibly sad...

Kerry O'Connor said...

I shudder to imagine why ten year old boys were incarcerated! Such iniquity lies hidden in these closed down institutions. Takes a poet to demand a recount of the dead!

Margaret said...

…honestly. I had chills just now reading this. Sweet boys - I never even imagined that. Convenient all the records were as well destroyed. "The boys fought rescue" is just … too .. much for my mother's heart.