To Build a Fire
We used to drive out at dark with flood lights
sinking the night through the desert,
cracking the dirt to collect firewood
by flashlight under the tall ponderosa pines.
We hit a deer and it spun,
digging like a throwing star down the side of the truck
before it kicked and ran back into the brush,
and I’ve been hit before, the swelling delays.
We poured gasoline over the wet wood,
lit a match, and the flames grew so high
I imagined they touched heaven,
burning back for everything we lost.
My cousin and I dug holes
to shit in the earth like dogs
calling something their own.
We bathed in cold creeks, the current
stealing the soap from our skin,
naked and measuring up to the rocks.
It snowed one night and the first light was white,
a neoprene sunrise through the tent top.
I could hear deer breaking through to pure
dirt as morning tore open like a zipper.
—The sear and crack of ground beef on the stove,
water rising up like a scarf around my mother’s face,
the house smells of a set table, even if we don’t talk
about anything we sit together—the phone chord
coils, long enough to make a trip wire
into the living room where I roll on the carpet,
fingertips reading the indents and spots of plastic
where wood fell from the fireplace and burned
while I watched and called for her, or where I
watch her out there behind the glass door
on the cement step, still and calm, making clouds
with her cigarette before returning through
the sliding door, into motherhood, out there
where each time she tests a new propane tank
says call the police if it explodes,
I am alone
on the glass where I make fog and pictures on a ledge
in a box above everyone else--
she says I never cry much and I don’t like meat.
Tyler Sowa lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. His work can be found in Salt Hill Journal and Susan The Journal.