Of Course She Looked Back

You would have, too.
From that distance the shivering city
fit in the palm of her hand
like she owned it.

She could’ve blown the whole thing—
markets, dancehalls, hookah bars—
sent the city and its hundred harems
tumbling across the desert
like a kiss. She had to look back.

When she did, she saw
pigeons glinting like debris above
ruined rooftops. Towers swaying.
Women in broken skirts
strewn along burned-out streets
like busted red bells.

The noise was something else—
dogs wept, roosters howled, children
and guitars popped like kernels of corn
feeding the twisting blaze.

She wondered had she unplugged
the coffee pot? The iron?
Was the oven off?
Her husband uttered Keep going.
Whispered Stay the course, or
Baby, forget about it. She couldn’t.

Now a bursting garden of fire
the city bloomed to flame after flame
like hot fruit in a persimmon orchard.

Someone thirsty asked for water.
Someone scared asked to pray.
Her daughters or the crooked-legged angel,
maybe. Dark thighs of smoke opened
to the sky. She meant to look
away, but the sting in her eyes,
the taste devouring her tongue,
and the neighbors begging her name.

Natalie Diaz, “Of Course She Looked Back” from When My Brother Was an Aztec. Copyright © 2012 by Natalie Diaz. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, coppercanyonpress.org.

This poem was originally read in the Poetry Unbound episode “Natalie Diaz — Of Course She Looked Back