When they set fire to the understory of Hitchcock Woods,
the firemen lean on green signs that read: “Burning Today.”
Their helmets forgotten or lost, they cannot help but blink
and think of themselves, too, flaring briefly in the shade
or in a box down the cathedral aisle. They touch off
the smallest surrenders. Whiskey Road turns hazy.
Blue jays fly inches above the polo grass, into glass doors.
Smoke fills the old post office and the new one.
That svelte scent: it’s everywhere;
it spooks the stabled studs into blind kicking.
In the kitchen, everyone considers for a moment
how quick the city would go. Were there not bowing oaks,
yesterday, out this very window? I see the sun, the moon,
and the streetlamps at once—How? What’s keeping me
from bursting into flames? Don’t ask the firemen.
Their sense is horse sense. They know only
the fall and the fallen and the flash.
Let’s turn black what is already low to the ground;
let the bushy corners of these little kingdoms burn
so that ours won’t. Yet, even when I am not here,
Aiken is changing. The Daylight Donuts is long gone.
The Sand River has always been an ephemeral stream.
And now men I’ve known are cremated,
and other men I’ve known are not.
On short holidays I drive down Whiskey, slowly,
in reverse—in the controlled burn of forgetting—
like the trucks that harrow the trainer track between trials.
You can’t see the young thoroughbreds leave the ground
entirely. But they do. They do every time.
Mid-gallop, their own weight forgotten or lost
for an instant, then more. On corners they sleep
standing up, painted and waiting to move.
At night, they race down the Alley where their shoes
spark up the cobblestones. Everyone, still in the kitchen,
bows down on their knees and remembers the signs
that led them finally out of the dimming woods:
scorchmarks, a set of muddy hoofprints. Burning Today.
Are we capable of one bright flash, or many small blinks?
The horses, setting themselves on fire, give their ashes
to what is already ashen. They’re doing this to grow.
Alexander Lumans was awarded a fellowship to The 2015 Arctic Circle Residency, where he sailed around Svalbard, Norway. He was also the Spring 2014 Philip Roth Resident at Bucknell University. His poems have appeared in Sycamore Review, Crab Orchard Review, burntdistrict, South Carolina Review, and The Collagist.1