My friend, the writer, applied for a permit
from the town for a bonfire to burn
the wreckage of this year in effigy.
She would use the broken limbs from dead trees,
cracked shutters that hid a pulsing colony
of angry wasps, the rotted rescue ladder
dangling over the steep river bank.
That’s what she told the town.
On the invite she wrote: Let the flames burn
the stubble away. Bring kindling — Amazon
cartons, election junk mail, the neighbor’s
lawn signs, splinters of anger, your bruises.
Let’s make ashy feathers for our hopes.
Wear your masks.
I called to see if this was a real thing
or a poem. She said, both.
Sometimes her work is a wink and a nod.
Sometimes it’s urgent. I brought a thermos
of hot bourbon toddies to help me through.
The first thing she burned was the denial
from the officials in the closed town hall.
Whole tree trunks formed a pyramid pyre
over shorter logs, planks, and abandoned
junk from a collapsing shed. The arms and legs
of seatless chairs, a shattered chest missing
drawers, skeletal picture frames, vague pieces
of wood that once were something else
flared and disintegrated in flame.
In October’s thin air, sparks leapt amber
and wild. Dots of stars peeked through holes
in thermals of smoke like embers. We dropped
our blankets and coats in disheveled heaps,
piles of bodies in the long shadows.
The blaze pushed us back and back, widening
our circle until no one could speak. The heat
and energy explosive enough I thought someone
might strip naked and howl. Or combust.
That’s how ready we were.
Mary Jo LoBello Jerome is the Poet Laureate of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Paterson Literary Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Stillwater Review, River Heron Review, Little Patuxent Review, Short Story, and elsewhere.