Controlled Burn

How little I know of fire
Watching flames
Raze the neighboring farmhouse
To cinders.

Deserted for decades,
Flames shivered from blue
Sparks into black ringlets of soot,
Severed the roof in two—
Like the high school girl,
Muscled inside the house’s
Humid storm cellar.

Knifeless, liquored boys
Pinned her wrists,
Took turns,
One after another,
Until her pain was no longer pain,
Until her body
Was a kind of fluency
In their native hands,
Until the sky
Inside her lungs was starless.

Then they disappeared
Into illegible darkness.
& because there is nothing
In this world
Cleaner than ash, the fire
Department lit a retributive blaze,
Watched fire walk
Its slow course
Through the kitchen, hallways.

Those who were there
& saw it burn
Will one day see it again: a month
From now, a year—
Embers having grown cold
As wet stones—
Each time they drive the gravel
Past the empty acre.

Which means the flames,
Somehow, go on living
In memory, mending the world
With some bright nothing.
Which could have been her name,
If they’d thought, at all,
To gift her one.

& now, if you listen for her voice,
It will sound like fruit
Bats flowering from abandoned silos,
Which is the sound
Revenge makes as it drills
Into nothing.


There are gods & there are boys:
I knew one, once, whose father,
Bored with ordinary bodies,
Took him to the only porno theater
Left in town & how years later,
Still believing love
Was something urgent & brutal,
Held a drill-bit to a teenaged girl’s throat,
Unblessing her body with his.

He must have thought he could get away
With it. Or get away, at least,
From his name, light as the bandage
His father wrapped around his life,
Away from the theaters—
Where for five bucks
Teenaged boys could finally see
Full frontal: women tall as dark trees,
Bearing a simpler fruit.

He told me once—
Moments before the projectionist
Loaded the black spools—that he felt his soul
Leave his body. He didn’t mean soul,
Exactly, but whatever it is that departs us
& enters lifeless things, which means
A part of him is still there
In the plush seat, red as a newborn’s lungs,
Mistaking the smell of popcorn
For burnt hair.

Brandon Courtney was born and raised in Iowa, served four years in the United States Navy (Operation Enduring Freedom), and is a graduate of the MFA program at Hollins University. His poetry is forthcoming or appears in Best New Poets, Guernica, The Journal, Cream City Review, and 32 Poems, among many others. His book, The Grief Muscles, is forthcoming from The Sheep Meadow Press. Thrush Press published his chapbook, Improvised Devices. He is a graduate student at the University of Chicago.