Steam explodes from coals that burn orange-red
just before seawater lays waste to the beach fire.
Three boys, ten-years-old, dance in steam and sputter,
as they wave metal forks recently warm from marshmallow
torches. I imagine a dance like this to choose
spear throwers for the bison hunt at dawn. Later,
as the meat is roasting in the fire pit, one of the quiet
boys might scratch ochre on stone to tell the story.

You used to be one of those wild boys: climbing electric
towers, holding lit fireworks by the tips of your fingers,
shooting tennis balls from a bazooka made of duct tape, lighter
fluid and Shlitz beer cans. On warm evenings in June
you wove your bike back and forth through DDT clouds
spewed from the back of the mosquito truck.

Our own boys, not allowed to hold explosive devices, or climb
electrified fences, or fly through poisonous gas, have found
other ways to taste the inside of their mouths. A ring of flame
out of Antonio Banderas cologne has burned evidence
into our back porch. You have explained to me that sometimes
passing cars beg to be hit by water balloons. Two of our sons
coated each others' hands with bug spray, put a match to the shine,
and waited to see which one would let his own palm burn.

I remember you swinging on the porch in the dark with Nick,
then 3. The night crackled with heat lightning as it shot
across Ellett Valley. Nick, our own summer storm,
was as transfixed then as when you cupped your hand
and showed him the lightning bug inside. I see now,
you were getting him ready. Ready to hold lightning, ignite
perfume, and dance on the coals of a dying beach fire.

KMA Sullivan is a student at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia where she lives with her husband and four of their five children. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Southern Women's Review,  PANK,  Pearl, NOÖ Journal, Potomac Review, and Night Train. A complete list of her publications and a few of her thoughts can be found at:


I began writing €œNecessary Fire€ after a beach picnic where three ten-year-old boys, under a father€™'s semi-watchful eye, ran around the fire with marshmallows they had set aflame. I thought two things: 1) if the mother was here this wouldn'€™t be happening, and 2) boys have been doing this, or something just like it, for thousands of years. This led me to think about the lives boys lead and the fathers they often become. 



Copyright 2009