Ode to New Construction on a Meth Lab Burial Ground

Not often have I tasted ceremony, but I remember

taking orders from an Indian named Snowbear,

who, as darkness flooded our 8th grade campout,

tied us to trees with thread he dared us not to snap,

and I won the bet, motionless while millipedes

poked me like fingers from the grave, silent

when he called game over, a wild thing openly hiding,

silent and brave and still even as his boots

trampled through fallen leaves with steps

that sounded like brush fire; Outward Bound,

but I thought I was a Native child, and I have tried

to return to that day when I lingered between worlds,

but instead I am a gawker in the Florida Parishes

where it’s never quite safe–sunset, for example,

through the pine trees’ bristles, is just

a fire with teeth, and there is fire everywhere–

burn piles, brush fires, smoke pits stuffed with boar,

lazy fires set in paint cans on purpose and left

unsupervised for the firefighters find, only

they themselves are–how shall I say it–lackadaisical-

lite on water, heavy on wait-and-see, meanwhile

the woods consume themselves, while down the road

the meth lab rages, that took the boy and his father

who entered the inferno after him, and almost certainly

too late, the soft bellies of Fire District #12 rolled in;

short on hydrants and sleep, they hauled water

in tanks that Houdini in his straight jacket

would have aimed for, and it was magic they needed,

or a miracle, but only morning answered, along with smoke

speaking its language of the snake, yet within six months

the dump trucks delivered mounds of red clay,

and like that the earth was on fire again, which is how

the Choctaw and Tchefuncte pre-fabbed Louisiana,

by hauling woven baskets of earth to add a shoulder

or a wrinkle or spoked wheel, making sacred spaces

for us to desecrate, because we forget who came before,

and we always hate the ones who come after us,

for the change they bring, their unfamiliar dust,

their army of surveyors applying machetes

to the tender undergrowth, claiming another rancid slab

of swamp for a housewife with paint chip dreams;

does she know about the fire, the teddy bear shrine,

that the boy continues, stalled at three years old,

how I can almost see him in footy pajamas, pouting,

dragging his sooty blanket down the garden path

of the new house where new children scream and kick

at the sky on their swing set, fresh-stained cedar

anchored in a mound where the meth lab used to be,

where he lay mute until his dreams smoked out,

beside his father who went back in after him–

each drive-by it’s a different nightmare, but always

the trees lean in, their lesser branches charred.

Alison Pelegrin is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Waterlines (LSU Press, forthcoming 2016), as well as Hurricane Party (2011) and Big Muddy River of Stars (2007), both with the University of Akron Press. She is the recipient of creative writing fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, The Cincinnati Review, and The Southern Review. She teaches English at Southeastern Louisiana University.