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Rick Mullin 09-05-2018 02:24 PM

The Great Fire

At lunch, they ask me where to find the grave
of Alexander Hamilton. “The other
side,” I tell them, pointing to the nave
and tower-shadowed trees. “I hate to bother
you...." Don’t tell me... Hamilton. The same.
Tomorrow I should think to bring a sign:
The Other Side of Trinity [an arrow
pointing right], and sit back from the line
of tourists searching wide-eyed on the narrow
paths between the headstones for a name
that Broadway brought to light outside the oldest
steeple on a precipice and port
of no return, September at its coldest
in a New York City of another sort,
more human-scale and redolent of flame.

Title was: Trinity Churchyard

Line 5 was: you...” Another comes. I give the same

Line 6 was: directions. I should one day bring a sign.

Line 7: “sit back” was “disengage”

Line 15: “and redolent of” was “. Susceptible to”

Susan McLean 09-05-2018 02:56 PM

I like the poem, Rick. You need a space after the quotation marks in L3. I do wonder why flame is mentioned in the last line, since everything is susceptible to flame (notably the World Trade Center, in recent memory). So where is the contrast?


Rick Mullin 09-05-2018 03:13 PM

Thanks Susan,

The contrast is meant to be between 1776 (Hamilton's time) and 2018. The direct reference is to the burning down of the entire city as it stood on September 21, 1776. At that time, buildings were far more flammable than the stone, steel, and glass structures that came after. There is an inevitable reflection forward to a much more contained, if infinitely hotter fire on Sept 11, 2001. I think I may need to replace "Susceptible".


Note: Change in line 15

Allen Tice 09-05-2018 04:16 PM

I'm confused because the fire you suggest was long before Hamilton's duel, so how do you justify the allusion? It reads as if you regularly lunch in that churchyard. On the other hand, my confusion apart, it seems to me more steady than some of yours and that feeling I like.

Rick Mullin 09-05-2018 04:20 PM

Thanks Allen,

Yes, I eat lunch in the graveyard a lot.

But Hamilton had a history prior to the duel. For example,... he fought as an artilleryman and officer in the Continental Army in New York in 1776.

John Jeffrey 09-05-2018 11:31 PM

I quite like this—until “September” and the final three lines, which seem to take the poem in a direction other than where it was headed. Up to that point, we have a harried N, annoyed at the parade of suddenly-interested tourists, and then comes what I thought was the crux of the poem: Hamilton’s newfound fame through, of all places, a Broadway musical, and the contrast of that improbable neon-lighted celebrity against the real history in the “narrow paths between the headstones” and the “oldest steeple” in the graveyard of a 300+ year-old church.

But that never happens. Instead, there’s suddenly mention of September in a “New York City of another sort”? And of course I’m thinking 9/11 because, as with most people, mentioning September and NYC = 9/11. But I’m not sure why I’m there. I was with an irritated N and tourists and Hamilton and Broadway. And what’s the “port of no return”?

It’s a tenuous connection anyway, since Hamilton was almost certainly not a member of that church in 1776 when it burned in the NYC fire, though he attended years later after it changed from Anglican to Episcopal.

I think you should continue on the theme of old/new, history/entertainment, etc., through the eyes of the irritated N. (Which means the title should change to.)

--John J

By the way, I love the rhyme scheme. Is that something named, or is it your own invention?

Martin Elster 09-06-2018 12:04 AM

Rick, I like this on the whole, but I was lost at “port of no return” and “redolent of flame.”

In answer to John’s question about the form, I believe this is Rick’s own invention. A new kind of sonnet.

Rick Mullin 09-06-2018 05:25 AM

Thanks John and Martin,

I mean the port of no return to be New York itself at the start of the Revolution. Hamilton fought in the battles that took place around the city at the time of the Great Fire (Sept. 21, 1776). I do, of course, expect a fire in Manhattan in September to also evoke the more recent disaster.

John, I kind of like poems that don't go where I think they're going, and definitely thing that's OK when it happens.~,:^)

The main contrast I hope to bring forward is the city of towers and mindless tourists looking for the grave of some received sensational figure in history they know little about compared to Hamilton himself and the vitality and disaster of the city itself at that early time. Redolent of flame, I would hope , contrasts with wide-eyed and same. Revolutionary ardor in the air as well as a city actually on fire.

The form is one I invented. I call it a Third Sancerre (reference to three glasses of wine mentioned in the first one I wrote and to the three C rhymes). I think of it as a sonnet form.

Thanks again, and welcome to the Sphere, John,

Erik Olson 09-06-2018 03:22 PM


I just finished reading, and I heartily enjoyed this piece. Indeed. I have no suggestions at the moment. I register, if nothing else, my enthusiastic appreciation.


Martin Elster 09-06-2018 05:12 PM

Rick, I forgot to mention in my previous comments that I love the irony of this line: “Don’t tell me... Hamilton.”

It wasn’t “port” that perplexed me (I thought it referred to NYC), but “no return.” But now I understand it. By the way, I just googled “port of no return” and got this:

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