Self Portrait as a Moving Van on Fire

Boys in small towns love fire, and these boys know
every town is small. Everywhere I lived, we performed
the ritual of matches, coaxed budding flame
with pine straw and twigs until branches
as long as our arms, longer, became fire
and its caustic aftermath.
Because boys will not
say what they love, they weave a language
in the blue heart of flame, where their offerings
vanish into mounded ash, die into nests
where only a few coals wink and smolder. At dawn,
the two boys who never had to be home would rise,
push handfuls of sticks into stirred embers,
try to burn the night again.

*        *        *        *

In the desert, a friend and I built a fire
that brought a helicopter sweeping a spotlight
over the ground. We said nothing, just ran
far enough to be hidden, fast enough for this to be
no more than a story for the next place we went.
I knew
so little I had no answer for the well-wishing
of a teacher on my last day in his class.
I did know

nothing vanished even in fire. Clocks would shrug
through their hours and all the things
whose names I had learned would continue
while I rode a thousand miles in a new direction
to find a new school, a new house waiting
to be filled by our dry furniture, the matches
I saved in a drawer and would not strike.

*        *        *        *

We drove east. And on the second night passed
a burning 18 wheeler, a corridor of flame
on the road's shoulder. Lights throbbed
like frantic hearts. A silver curve of water rose,
falling into the hollow center
of the fire.
For a moment we believed
our lives burned in that truck,
and all our fears were one fear.
When we stopped that night, when
it was time to sleep, I could only see
the burning walls of the van, how they peeled
into layers and fell into the gravity of fire.

*        *        *        *

Nothing of ours burned that night.
We moved into our new house
and have been left to time's burning, which is slower
and more thorough. I still love fire. And know
all the reasons to fear it.
Sometimes I wake
in this house where I've lived longer
than I've ever lived anywhere, my body racing
with its dreams of fire gone wrong.
Then I rise, walk over yesterday's ash-gray dust
to make coffee and wait for the dark van
that carries day to arrive and begin stacking
its unburned furniture on my yard.

Al Maginnes' most recent books are Ghost Alphabet, winner of the 2007 White Pine Press competition, and two chapbooks published in 2010, Between States (Main Street Rag Press) and Greatest Hits 1987-2010 (Pudding House Publications). He has recent or forthcoming poems in Terminus, Tar River Poetry, Brilliant Corners, Platte Valley Review, Baltimore Review, Verdad, Asheville Poetry Review and many others. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and teaches at Wake Technical Community College. (

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761