Entranced by Fire
I light the forest,
see what burned looks like,
more visceral than AI
pictures. Flaking branches,
like fish on a grill.
Black smoke, crawling
along acre after acre of flame.
These are real, and I wish
I could touch them.
But the authorities are after me
like I’m treasure on a map.
They can detect a burnt match
from a mile away. They want
the TV to announce my guilt,
listed with the damage I caused,
my new last name.
I flee into the wilderness,
fly into the hole of a tree.
Around me, animals wake
at night, and each hoot of an owl
freezes me, so I can’t get out.
A coyote howls nearby,
a spider dangles above me.
Far from me, last embers
of fire run out. Everything is gone,
like an eraser of ash swept
over the woods. I can’t see that.
My heart is bursting out of its chest.
I can’t breathe, like a weight
has been placed on my lungs.
I know what is happening.
I will be the last thing burned.
The closet is my neighborhood.
The fat blue coat is my mail delivery person,
the light green jacket
the owner of a bodega.
Boxes upon boxes are neighbors,
each empty as the day they were born.
Why they don’t have bodies
like mine is a mystery.
I realize life has only so much space
to inhabit this world. I represent
the average of the average,
who leaves and carries
a mediocre civilization with me.
Where the real TV is
speaks with its streaming voice.
I watch show after show,
comedy stand-up after stand-up special.
I lie on my side on the sofa,
a sardine that can’t move in its jar.
Please, someone put me on a pizza.
Everyone else pretends to be busy,
to do things to pacify death.
But even in the closet,
things break, the weight of outerwear
bends the pole so everything drops to the floor.
There is mourning,
but there is also praise.
More will be added to my neighborhood,
additional boxes to peer into,
a new friend.
I’m just a boy who wants
to get the mail for his Dad,
shop at the bodega
for mangoes and grapes.
TV told me I should eat fruit.
I will taste the sweetest allowed.
Donald Illich has published poetry recently in The MacGuffin, Slant, and Okay Donkey. He is the author of Chance Bodies (The Word Works, 2018) and Rescue Is Elsewhere. He lives and works in Maryland.
Image: Sri Namagiri Mahalakshmi Baskaran, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons