Bethany Reid, “The Temperature at Which Paper Burns”

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The Temperature at Which Paper Burns

In the dream heaven was like “Fahrenheit 451”
that short story by Ray Bradbury a place
where someone has decided the past
was a mistake a minority of us choosing
to keep it anyway so one woman’s job
was to remember Dwight D. Eisenhower
and another Lyndon Baines Johnson
one assignment was to memorize
the Emancipation Proclamation another
the story of Marian Anderson and Eleanor
Roosevelt plus every note of “My Country
‘Tis of Thee” in the dream ours was
the American History cell or so it seemed
a whole contingent of us assigned Jefferson
and the Declaration and Sally Hemings
one group committing to memory
the native peoples before Columbus
on waking I almost lost heart seeing how
we are already living in an afterlife
where memory has ceased and children
wander the earth hard-wired to God
shouting hallelujah into their cellphones
my job waking to scrape up the scraps
into a single colorful pile keeping together
the whole kaleidoscope of the past
not forgetting but remembering
that we must remember


Bethany Reid’s poems have recently appeared in Calyx, Stringtown, Santa Clara Review, and the anthology What We Can Hold. Her most recent book is Sparrow, which won the 2012 Kenneth and Geraldine Gell Poetry Prize. She blogs at and live in Edmonds, Washington, with her husband and their three daughters.


One thought on “Bethany Reid, “The Temperature at Which Paper Burns”

  1. Reblogged this on A Writer's Alchemy and commented:
    I’m preparing for my reading at Hibulb Cultural Center tonight, and realized that I never let you know about this lovely publication, back in December. So — here’s a link — and an invitation to regularly visit Clementine Unbound.


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