Shara Lessley • Dynamite: A Prelude

Heleneborg factory explosion, 1864

          The entire perimeter of Stockholm shook, imploding
the butcher’s oblong panes. Salmon and pike
                    trembled inside

          iced baskets lining the archipelago. A servant girl was killed;
a student, paid to top off canisters
                    with glycerine; the carpenter

          passing by. The night watchman’s daughter was the first
identified, Nobel’s brother the last.
                    In a painting from the time,

          a boy perched in a ditch stuffs his gunny sack with dandelion
shoots near the River Marne
                    where, fifty years later, nitro

          and pulp will turn the Great War’s tide—allies catapulting
grenades improvised from jam-tins
                    crammed with sawdust,

          dynamite. The canvas’s air is clear, though light appears
to die. In Heleneborg, Nobel himself
                    was thrown to the floor. He never

          spoke of it. The others didn’t feel time expire, or see the flame
hawkers claimed shot straight out
                    to immolate

          the factory’s inmost walls. A terrible quake overturned
their nearby stalls. Near Munk Bridge
                    a child, terror-struck, dropped

          her doll of wax, began to cry. Her sister recovered it;
half-buried beside a stove,
                    its rag-dress torn. Such wreckage

          for a country not at war. Still, the doll looked
to be in relative peace,
                    reclined as if in a field

          where the sun’s quick-burning fuse—magnetic
nuclei melting down
                    her human hair—had

                                        pooled her green glass eyes.

Shara Lessley is the author of Two-Headed Nightingale (New Issues, 2012). A recent resident of the Middle East, she is the 2014 Mary Wood Fellow at Washington College.