Scritch of metal tines on concrete called
our gang from the fort in the woods.
We abandoned paint-can seats,
acorn cups and mushroom-rotted logs.
Fathers in padded jackets and duckbill hats
raked oak leaves in low October sun.
Scritch of rake – we brought twigs for treats
as fathers whooshed up fire with a little gas
and much damp smoke and shifted us
from one side to the other as the wind eddied.
No one thought of air pollution, climate change
or carbon sequestration. This was ritual,
pretend cook fires on the oxbow of the Platte,
banks of dry waving grasses, tribes circled.
Smoke trending to pale. From the smackling
of a burn pile, this taut smell was fall,
going toward Halloween and shorter days.
Liquid fire tongues leapt. If the men
talked politics, we didn’t listen
as they broomed strays toward the bonfire.
If this was a playdate, we didn’t know it.
If the future would yield up yard debris bins,
we were too deep in rites of fire to imagine it.
When the heaps were ash, we ran
back to our fort, sugared up
on ashy marshmallows,
a wild smell of char in our hair
replacing summer’s mowed lawns.
We’d seen the dragon,
heard it cackle and expected fall
would always be the same.
Fathers. Rakes. And fire.