“A fire is finally burning.
A light has broken through.
Go where you’re invited.
Speak when spoken to.”
Smoke from the fire still clings to my clothes. The heat still burns against my knees and shins. Another long drive is behind me. My bones have settled into their normal creaks after a night on the couch, where I slept my last night in Maine because the absence in the bed howled more than the wind billowing into the small window above the pillows.
We burned hardwood, which took a little longer to cast off heat, but it blazed into the night and the snow fell, cutting down at an angle with the force of the wind. My brother and I stood on either side of the fire, silent, shuffling and shaking in the cold, sipping our beer and parching our teeth and gums with quick drags from our cigarettes. I left the next day with hopes and memories pressing heavily enough to feel them on the backs of my eyes.
While I slept, the fire burned to ash.
For the past couple weeks, I’ve been engaged in thoughts of verbal retaliation to a rant targeted toward me. Like the fire, it faded, and I relinquished my desires of rattling the incoherent thoughts this person said until they fell like teeth once held by their rotten gums. The truth is that I’ve read more coherent and engaging rants on the nutritional information side of a cereal box, and I won’t validate those words here today by engaging them any more than I already have.
Understanding these things took too much of my time, and one thing I learned from the past two years is that bullshit comes in heaps or spoonfuls. I am not greedy, but I value and respect my time too much to subdue myself among exaggerations or the attempted creation of mud monuments that resemble bullshit. At least shit has the power to linger.
When I was a kid, I started a lot of fires. Several times my grandmother caught me stealing matches or lighters. I stole a Zippo once, from a bowl on one of her display cases. I didn’t have it very long before she realized it was gone. My mother would come from the house sometimes while I was playing outside or riding my bike and scream for me. When I hustled back to her, she’d drag me in the house to a box blackened on one side from a flame I’d held to it or she’d shake what was left of a piece of paper in my face, the curl of black where it had stopped burning scorched along an edge.
I lit the grass on fire once, and several men from the neighborhood caught me and rushed to put it out. When my father took us camping, my biggest desire was to peer into the flames—to get as close as I could to holding it in the palms of my hands. Each fire had to end in some way, often, to my dismay but “the things you pull from the fire are still going to burn.”
At Goddard, some of my friends and I went off into the woods to burn things that we’d written.
Last summer, I tore down an old post barn that my grandfather and great grandfather and probably men before them used to store tractors and other farm equipment. That wood provided night after night of fires and there’s still more to burn, resting beneath the snow. While I tore down and burned the wood from that building, I thought of the work the men had done to build it, to cut the trees and mill the boards, to measure and saw and nail until they’d built something useful. I used their work to create memories of my own. In the light of those fires, I jotted notes and recorded thoughts for later use.
I got a Zippo for my birthday, and it’s comforting to feel its weight in my pocket. I listen to the crisp snap when I open it in the dark and watch the flame burn. There’s a promise to its sound, much more distinct than the snap of a match. I’ve been doing this every night since I left Maine, letting my thoughts weave into the hum of its burn.
I’ve taken some time away. I’ve let the flames settle and the embers cool. Now, I’m ready to move forward with my words in a way that forces me to acknowledge every syllable, every interpretation, and every demon exemplified by the simplicity of key strokes. I close my eyes and remember how the snow fell by that last fire, how they burned into my neck.
The furnace kicks on and pushes more sound than warmth into this room. I’ve wrapped myself in words to fight the chill that sets in when I stay away from them for too long. I crack my knuckles, my neck and I move on to the next thought, leaning into the memories I’m suspended in, feeding a fire I’ll never put out.