Holy Fires

Max Ehrmann Poetry Contest Second Place Winner, 2015

We stopped to eat at a McDonald’s after—

I’m sure the counter-girl could smell

 

the plastic-clean of stitches and nurses’ gloves

and medication hanging over him

 

while we ordered fries and burgers to fill

our guts before we made the long drive home.

 

And when we found a seat I thought that things

were fine. We sat there talking about the family,

 

until he spilled his drink and lost his shit

real bad this time, and he stood and said:

 

“I was alive when Carpenter’s was still

the biggest bus maker around—your grandpa

 

lived in Tunnelton and drove to work

across the cliff to crank them out. He smelled

 

like oil and the dusty river all the time

and used to tell me that he never let

 

your mother out at night because cougars

were thick around his farm. You bring her back

 

before the frogs are calling, he’d say, you bring her

back before the cats get at her face—

 

my daughter there’s worth more than your life:

she’s a queen and that’s a real queen’s face.”

 

He paused to suck a piece of ice and smiled,

and then he looked at all the busy people

 

bent up over their plastic dinner trays

looking at him, and he bit the ice and laughed.

 

“I never saw a cat like that. It was

the cliff that got her and he should have watched

 

the river driving by it all the time

the way he did to go and build those buses—

 

lots of things were rusting in the river,

and I guess the busses rusted too. I didn’t see

 

a killer cat around the farm but I saw

a thing or too that’s worse. I saw the light

 

they lit over her grave—you were too young

but you saw it too: a propane thing we filled

 

together. You can’t buy one like that today—

today it’s all electric and plastic stakes

 

and you never have to see the grave again

after you’ve planted one of the solar lights.

 

It stays for good. I remember the first time

we lit the little flame your grandpa’s face

 

lit up like a ghost’s and I could see the scar

something had carved in his cheek one night when he

 

was back hunting raccoons by the bank of the river

out near the mouth of the Tunnel. But it’s all

 

gone now—even the river’s lost the way

it used to smell like pines from on up north

 

and only ghosts walk through the Tunnel—gone.

All of it. All gone. I guess he should have watched

 

the cliff because it’s all gone now. All of it.

Even the buses rusted away and there’s

 

no flame to mark the ghosts that’s left to stay—

all we’ve got are lights that last forever.”

The

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Poet With No Face

Poetry / Engineering / Art

 

I'm an electrical engineer with a passion for poetry who is constantly looking for ways to entangle the two and create artistic spaces that challenge the ways we normally interact with the world. If you have any related ideas or want to get in contact with me, send me a message below! 

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