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Trash Burning

'The match would catch a corner"

Published onApr 26, 2023
Trash Burning

Photo by Obed Hernández:

When we first moved out to the country,
my father burned our paper trash in a metal barrel
in the meadow above the stone wall.
I believe he thought this was something that went along
with owning house and land, a kind of self-sufficiency.

 The match would catch a corner, blue edge
spreading, leaving behind a ripple of black ash.
After which it would seem to go dead,
letting up a puff of smoke, and then a flame,
a small yellow army marching behind it.

The barrel sat out in all weather. In winter,
my father brushed the snow from the top.
One day he set the trash to burn,
rust holes pocking the barrel’s side
illuminated, a decorative lantern.
A lick of fire jumped out, spread onto the grass.
We beat at it, it raced away,
recruiting dry stubble, heading for the woods.

 It must have been my mother who called the fire department,
who sent some men to put it out.
My father stayed quiet the whole time.
I guess there’s been some illegal burning, the fire chief said.
My father hung his head. I didn’t hear the rest.

There was a fine, I’m sure.

The barrel disappeared from the upper meadow.

The Sunday afternoon ritual ended.

I heard your father set your meadow on fire,
the other kids said. We’d never belonged.

Alison Hicks was awarded the 2021 Birdy Prize from Meadowlark Press for Knowing Is a Branching Trail. Previous collections are You Who Took the Boat Out and Kiss, a chapbook Falling Dreams, and a novella Love: A Story of Images. Her work has appeared in Eclipse, Gargoyle, Permafrost, and Poet Lore. She was named a finalist for the 2021 Beullah Rose Prize from Smartish Pace, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Green Hills Literary Lantern and Quartet Journal. She founded Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio, which offers community-based writing workshops.

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