Benjamin Goldberg


Benjamin Goldberg lives with his wife outside Washington, D.C. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Salt Hill, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Greensboro Review, Grist, The Southeast Review, A cappella Zoo, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the 2012 Gearhart Poetry Prize, the 2013 New Millennium Writings Award for Poetry, and the 2013 Third Coast Poetry Prize. He teaches high school English. Find him online at

Church of the Pyromaniacs

Dirt road, snake grass. Willows fanning
the ash pile like an angel’s afterthought.
We had to move our holy tremors into tents.
Ask anyone. Ask their mother. Rogue verses
still roam these mangroves.
After the steeple buckled into charred planks,
the swamp sprang through the floorboards
within months, and pews grew ragged
with switchgrass. Moth wings hold the place
in our psalters where our last chants stopped.
There are forces of night at work
the smoke and skyline of industrial lights
can’t wholly hide. An owl perches
on roof beams through which the moon reaches
to wash our hymns off the sanctuary walls.
We still hear the candles, the ecstatic tantrums
of our skin that licked our murals
to cinder. When our water pails welled
with every prayer ash answered,
you could’ve filled silos with our silence.

I was watching an episode of True Detective during which the protagonists follow a lead into an incinerated church. The characters and story fell away from me leaving only the image of this church and the mystery of how it burned. I imagined a congregation so faithful it could stand and watch their place of worship—even their beliefs—burn. I wondered what a religion might look like after it immolated itself. I thought of how sometimes the price of joy is fire.