On January 15th, it wasn’t snow that kept schools closed,
but rivets popping like machine-gun fire, a steel tank bursting,
two million gallons of molten molasses spurting into the air.
First a dark rumble, then a roar, as the North End
turned into a wet, brown hell. Autos and wagons mired,
freight cars crushed, entire buildings crumbled like pasteboard.
The Great War was done; no need to turn molasses
into alcohol for ammunition, but Purity Distilling
demanded one last batch before the end.
Twenty-two dead, horses drowned, hundreds injured.
Clean-up crews and rescuers, knee-deep in makings of rum,
listened as church bells pealed in Prohibition.
Throughout the city, for decades afterwards, they say
you could smell the sweet aroma, and on certain buildings,
if you looked closely, the high water mark left by molasses.
This poem first appeared in Flint Hills Review, 2005.
Used here with the author’s permission.