Saltpeter, to sailors who swore the cooks
put it in the eggs to keep their cocks in check;
Nitre, to alchemists who dreamed
of turning lead to gold;
Potassium Nitrate, to the druggist who asked
the boy what he would do with that.
The ancient Chinese recipe:
Mix with sulfur, charcoal
seven parts to one to two.
Grind it fine as talc.
What he would do is strike a match, then watch
the blaze of self-discovery––
the boyhood burn to master
the forbidden and impossible––
choking the basement with smoke
from what could sink a ship at Scapa Flow.
John Barr/from War, Literature & the Arts