Spring Burning by Lance Le Grys

every spring my father started fires

before the house
a steep uneven bank
dropped from the edge of the yard like a careless sin

piled with boulders turned up by the plows
overrun with sumac and wild grapes
every summer it became
a jungle
of tropical luxuriance

as a child
I hacked my way through palm-like sumac fronds
with any sort of blade that I could find
with a rare impunity
the willful exercise of native powers
toward destruction
it seemed with no effect
so prolific are those weed-like trees
like the dandelion
yet inspiring
a fearful hate
at their awful fertility

winter crushed the orgy
with the snow
drawn back in the spring like a dirty bandage
revealed a matted chaos
of sticks and burdocks
choked with thick clumps of dead grass
spring in this climate
is a hangover
a scab crusting over an open wound

on this chaos
my father waged his war
armed with a matchbook and a can of gas
and he was an artist with a can of gas
performing with the flames
an elegant ballet
directing their course with darting flicks
and dips of the wrist
like some magician with a wand and starry hat
somehow avoiding
uncounted times in forty years
what seemed
an inevitable explosion

the flames advanced
in a wide uneven front like mounted hordes
on a civilization hollowed by dry rot

in less than an hour the match had won its battle

an entire landscape seemed
to become air
another firmer one beneath
thickets crumbled
slopes of waving grass
like mist on a lake
against the wind
lunar rocks
pale round and awkward
up from a ground of clean black ash like stars

and I would walk
upon that firmament
my footsteps raising tiny clouds of ash
breathing an air
of caustic purity
that laid a bitter dust upon my lips
and feel the stones already cool to the touch
with a spirit clarified
and silent

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