Burning Trash

by Elizabeth Hazen

Boys start fires all the time— it's a rite

of passage— so when your father gives you the task

of setting fire to the family's trash,

you don't mind, and when the flames ignite


inside the old dishwasher he heaved

into the woods behind the house, you smoke

a cigarette, glancing up the path, and stoke

the flames with a stick. Above you sneaky leaves


let through a glimpse of tomorrow, but today

is still consumed with the past: yesterday's news,

junk mail, cardboard boxes, empty bottles. The fumes

of crackling plastic make you sick, but you stay


until the week reduces itself to ash.

You're a little let down that the fire doesn't last,

doesn't leap from the dishwasher, spreading past

the forest's edge; all that burns is trash.


My love, be patient — you who are so taken

by the promise of destruction, so watchful

for what lies beyond your father's woods: the pull

of future like a girl waiting, naked


and certain. Soon enough you will learn

that not all fires can be contained, not all traces

of the things we throw away can be erased

with a single match, and even as you yearn


for new fire to burn a path away from here,

the old flames smolder, and the steely walls

buckle, and from the distance your father calls:

his voice grows louder with each passing year.