Paranormal Investigators Seek the Dead from the Ohio Penitentiary Fire of 1930, the Site of Which was Paved Over to Form the Parking Lot of a Columbus Hockey Arena

Paul David Adkins

Always, ghost hunters know that spirits persist after
fires, crashes, battles,
as though some psychic energy
sparked the votives of the dead
to flicker beside the heaps of wilted roses.

It’s not enough to know the prisoners died
here, or here,
or here or here or here.

So, seekers stand, EMFs in hand,
one team on center ice of unlit Nationwide Arena,
another in the basement of the Neil Avenue Garage,
hoping to discern the roar of flames, and screams,
timbers splitting overhead.

But last week, the man who ordered
a Big Bite Breakfast at Sunny Street Café at seven a.m.
heard a shout of “Fire” in the back.
He didn’t know a thing about the prison, the blaze, the blinding, choking smoke;
didn’t call Edward Axe or Archie Jenkins or Lester Roth by name like their mothers in the dark.

He could not tell the dead that they were dead,
and it was okay. He would be
as scared of them as them.

And he was running.




Paul David Adkins (he/him/his) earned an MFA from Washington University. In 2021, Xi Draconis will publish his collection Long Time Burning. Journal publications include Badwater, Kissing Dynamite, Spillway, and Barzakh. He has received one Best of the Net and six Pushcart nominations and the 2019 Central NY Book Award for Poetry.