The first stanza of this poem details a man who is burning to death. The author uses a great deal of fire imagery to get his point across, “Flames are peaking out/from beneath his collar and cuffs/His shoes have begun to melt. ” At this point, the reader is able to actually picture this poor man rather grotesquely burning to death. However, for some reason, the man does nothing but reads a newspaper, despite the fact that he must be very uncomfortable, what with the whole burning to death factor.
This seems to be the author’s first classification of a way that people use to solve their problems- the “I’ll-just-ignore-it-and-then-it’ll-go-away” method, even when other people have noticed the person suffering from this problem and want to help. The second stanza is about the woman standing next to the man; she seems him burning and wants to inform him that he needs to get help, or perhaps to help him herself, but she can’t, because for some reason she is drowning. The author again does an excellent job of incorporating imagery to detail this rather terrifying death, or problem (let’s face it, drowning is a scary way to go).
He shows the reader, “Water is everywhere/in her mouth and ears/in her eyes/A stream of water runs/steadily from her blouse. ” The reader can picture this woman choking for air as she struggles to breathe just enough to inform the man about his situation. This is a woman who clearly has a grave problem that, even though she wants to help the burning man, is unable to because her problem gets in the way. The third stanza details a third woman, one who is freezing to death. This woman realizes that the man who is burning can help her with her problem, ut when she tries to move over to him and get warm, the ice blocks at her feet weigh her down such that she can’t. She also wants to reach out to the woman who is drowning, but can’t because her teeth are chattering much too badly. Once more, the use of imagery is fantastic, “…to try and melt the icicles/ that have formed on her eyelashes/and on her nostrils/…has trouble moving/with blocks of ice on her feet”, the author gives the reader (or listener) a very vivid image of this poor woman.
The last stanza is about the bus driver who picks the three up. On any ordinary day, the driver would have noticed these people, with all their burning and drowning and freezing; but he doesn’t because he’s worried about someone else. The imagery provides an excellent picture, “…he is tortured/ by visions and is wondering/if the man who got off at the last stop/was really being mauled to death/by wild dogs. This part is a bit more open to interpretation; it almost gives off the sense that the bus driver has some sort of mental disorder, or “sixth sense” and is seeing all these dead people, as the connotation to “visions” tends to deal either with the insane or the paranormal. But, of course, it could be simply keeping with the message of the rest of the poem and showing the reader how people can sometimes get so caught up in the problems of one person that they don’t see the problems of other people, even if the other people’s problems are just as, if not more, severe.