New York on Fire – Book Excerpt – Burning Churches

Book Excerpt: Burning Churches

New York on Fire by Hilton Obenzinger



* Burning Churches

* Triangle Shirtwaist Company

* B-25 Bomber Crashes Into the Empire State Building

Burning Churches

August 4,1956

I piled up hymnals and cushions on the pews,
poured lighter fluid over them, then threw the match.
So much for St. Bartholomew’s.
At St. Patrick’s I went to the candle room.
Next to Cardinal Spellman’s sacristy
I lit up a few more candles than expected.
So much for charity.

Yes, burning churches of an afternoon, walking about,
it’s a delight, a midsummer bonfire to scorch out
the pestilence of the God idea.
I was calm but determined – and totally without fear
of damnation or the cops.

At St. Thomas I built an offering of books and cloth.
This little fire at the altar of the cross
is in appreciation for the many who burned at the stake.
A little bonfire midsummer for those who died
because they dared to think.
I don’t think it’s too much.

I have heard all your arguments for the existence of God,
from the ontological to the scatalogical.
If Harry Truman had never lived, Margaret Truman
would never have been born. If Harry’s father were never born
Dewey would have been elected. Truman wouldn’t even be.
Everything has its cause. But what causes cause?
There must be something beyond cause and effect.
Therefore God exists!
This is a logic which deserves to burn.

Ah, but then I went to confession.
I unraveled the entire Sunday Daily News,
squirted lighter fluids, and dropped a cause
to a certain effect.
Priests, confess!
Confess the massacres
in the name of crosses
while you dickless priests
protect young girls from abortionists!
Confess the sorrows of secret masturbators,
confess your many crimes to the body,
I think it’s not too much
to light a bonfire in a confessional box.

Was it a dozen or only eight bonfires that I set?
I can’t remember.
Next day I took the bus to Sullivan County to rest
among buds and trees, to await September.
But then I picked up the papers at the lunch stop.
I lamented at how I could have forgotten
how stupid were the minions of the Book
when there in the newspaper I read:

An hour after the last of the fires was discovered
at 5:45 pm in St. Columbia’s Roman Catholic Church
police arrested 66 year old Salvatore Sorrentino
of 110 MacDougal Street.
Found at Fifth Avenue and 16th Street shredding a mop
near another church,
he was arrested
on a charge of violating the sanitary code.
Police and fire officials termed him a logical suspect.
He was carrying newspapers, matches and rags.
His furnished room was later found to be crowded
with religious objects.

Is this your logical suspect?
An old man in a greasy suit shreds a mop?
Because his room is tilled with plastic Marys?
Why, you have found a human sacrifice
to throw into the flames!
Throw him into the bonfire I built – drive out the lice
of God! How appropriate, if not very nice.

But I will be back come harvest-time
to walk about of an afternoon.
Burning churches is such a delight
and the lesson is not learned overnight.
Then we will see what other kinds of sacrifice
you’ll find to appease the anger of your Christ.

Until then, thank you Salvatore Sorrentino.
May you not suffer much
because truth decides to light a torch.
When I come back I’ll buy you a glass of vino.
And – but only if you wish – you come join me for a little walk

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