Neil Aitken


—Fire at the Chinese Museum, Philadelphia, July 5, 1854

Forgive me, if I do not wave my last good arm, or call out something
wild or brave, amid the blaze that consumes this place, this room

cluttered with the end of things, gathered from the fringe of empires
and their decline. Now everything burns and smoulders case by case.

This is not how I thought I'd meet my demise, unmanned, forgotten,
a wooden figure with a metal heart, hollowed out and silenced,

my chest partitioned into two unequal chambers, each filled
with an intricate cast of gears and mirrors, each playing a part

in a deception now laid bare by all that fades and withers in the flames.
The game is up. The match is set. And I have nothing more to push.

I, who defeated emperors and queens, have been bested by a little spark
grown as grand and many-ringed as Dante's hells, though few will recall

my name when all is said and done. Just a ghost of a machine.
Those who paraded me about have already gone into the dark,

some into the distant earth, others into the sea. One drank himself down,
bitter and burning with unfamiliar disease. And now I too must pass.

The final straw—this loss of face and form before the unmaking of my self,
before I lie down, uncrowned, unmasked, upon the checkered board.

Neil Aitken is the author of The Lost Country of Sight, winner of 2007 Philip Levine Prize, and the editor of Boxcar Poetry Review. He was born in Vancouver, British Columbia and raised in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and western United States and Canada. His poems have appeared in American Literary Review, The Collagist, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, The Normal School, and elsewhere. A former computer programmer, he is presently completing a PhD in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California. He can be found online at

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