Poems by Jim Clark
(Originally appeared in Jim Clark's second book of poetry,
Handiwork(St Andrews College Press, 1998). Reprinted
here by permission)
We are men, in our late thirties,
and we have set the neighbor's roof afire.
"Flaming Balls," the packages read,
crude lettering provocatively purpling
the flimsy cardboard, shrink-wrapped and
innocently lying in their silver-dusty bin
at Big Ed's State Line Fireworks Supermarket,
Chattanooga, TN. The inscrutable logo
should have warned but didn't: A lone rocket
atop a pair of cherry bombs.
Now, in this sultry suburb of the city
Sherman burned, the last gleam of twilight
fading in the west, to the fevered delight
of our attendant offspring we have
lit the fuse, and we have run away.
Independence flowers overhead, reflected
in our wistful eyes. Seconds later,
a woman's voice calls from the porch, "I see
something over there. A light. There."
We turn as one, and there--There!--
the loose shag of dry pine needles littering
the neighbor's roof erupts in fiery cascade.
In the acrid dark we clamber over chain-link
as tall as a man--slip, rip, howl and we are in.
Someone is pulling a bucking, sputtering hose
through a chain-link diamond, and in my stomach
beer loses ground to flaming Hot Wings, the inner
world mirroring the outer. Through mist and smoke
and lurid flame dimly I see three figures
on the roof, stomping out flames, sweating,
bent double. Some herky-jerky Outback ritual
dance unfolds, complete with rhythmic chant--
Anybody home? Oh, Anybody home!--and I think
I must be dreaming.
Then bodies, damp and smudged, slide from the roof.
Show's over. Nobody's home. Wind in the empty garden
hose moans like a didgeridoo.
The fire truck slunk back to the station.
The Sheriff let us off with a warning.
The neighbors came home drunk and didn't notice.
The women put the children to bed and talked
low on the porch, long into the night. We knew
to stay away. Sometime later on a breath of wind
came the chuckled whisper--"Flaming Balls!"
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