I won't allow my father to chop the wood. He cracks another can, hands me the axe. Old, dull, still with the power to maim. I turn my back as I split the fractions, find the log's weakest points like he taught me. Feed. Feed the fire, which wavers like water. Little cinder fish swim the length of the night, burning like the idea of forgiveness. My father thanks me for the twentieth time in two hours for coming on the camping trip I arranged between us. I ask him not to do so again, say, I've already acknowledged it. He repeats, acknowledge, like a revelation, extinguishing a stray spark, then points to the Big Dipper in the bruised sky, the smoke reaching with him. Look at those fucking stars, he says. Do you know what that is? He doesn't ask me questions I want to answer. The wood shifts and a smoldering log tumbles from my carefully laid structure. Then, I'm going to bed. I watch him go. A shooting star, sudden as remorse, bisects the handle from the bowl as it dips above his head, then disappears faster than the sharp end of an axe.
I wake with flight vibrations. A fluttering in my veins. A brush, a tumble, a falter. It's a moth. A moth got in. It stays close to the porchlight heart in my chest, where it whispers small-mouthed poisons disguised as prayers turn on, brighter, brighter, it's not enough leaving its dull dust everywhere. I distract myself with questions of scrutiny, but wings grow eyes. Haven't you noticed? How everything gets stranger when you pay attention? Count your blinks, your breaths— Really listen to your own voice. The ears fold in on themselves. The tongue speaks in disrupted rhythms. Dust only multiplies.
Saturday, 10:35 AM
The chickens behind the alley fence are gone. They do not come to greet us, to feed on weeds we stick through chain-link. I weave a small blue flower through, the leaves already curling towards decay. I want to voice every leaving like this. Nasturtium explodes from the packed mud, reaching for the rain-washed graffiti on the wooden shed. Inside, warped wood and scraps and rusting metal. We peek through the cracks. The wood splinters beneath our fingers, more soft festoon than spear. Light is in gallop this morning. Light like so many horses. The alley trod. Trodden.
Ariel Machell is a poet from California. She received her MFA from the University of Oregon in 2021. She is an Associate Poetry Editor for Northwest Review. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Pinch, SWWIM Every Day, The Shore, Up the Staircase Quarterly and elsewhere. Her poem 'Devotion' was recently nominated for Best New Poets 2022. She has two cats, works in natural wine, is obsessed with rivers, and is prone to sunburn.