A soft breeze rolls across
The hills of my aunt's property.
Wheat nearly ready to harvest
As the Summer quickly draws to close.
Moonlight pours from a cloudless night sky
Onto a canvas of stalks -
Swaying with the zephyr
Like a tide, ebbing, and flowing.
Cheerful crickets sing into the darkness,
As a man guides a group of children;
Stopping at the edge of the crops.
I follow close behind my brother -
Not in fear of the dark,
But anticipation of what lies ahead.
"It's a secret," says Uncle Jerry,
Turning to us children,
As a grin spreads across his face.
He squats to our level,
Raising a finger to closed lips.
He reaches into his dirty overalls,
Unveiling a package of marshmallows.
Hushed squeals of excitement pervade the group.
"Don't tell Ma," Uncle Jerry warns us.
"Or we're all in trouble, ya hear me?"
We nod, with wide-eyes, solemnly.
We understood the gravity.
Ma was the fire you didn't play with;
The devil you could dance with
And never come out on top.
Uncle Jerry's infectious smile returns.
“Then follow me!" He exclaims,
As he bolts through the crops.
We chase after him, on our tiny legs.
The air in my lungs replaced,
With every passing second;
Pursuing the man ahead,
Wearing tattered clothes,
And painted in moonlight.
My nostrils burn,
With the smell of old country:
Untainted by city pollution;
With the faint addition of
Through the slits of vision,
Granted by small gaps
Where wheat deviated
From its otherwise vertical position,
I can see the farmer stop.
We had reached our destination.
Stalks cease to brush my face,
As I step out into a clearing.
My partners-in-crime pant in unison.
Defying, and outsmarting Ma?
The ultimate treasure?
We were rebels -
We were alive.
The expanse had been liberated
Of the plants that once grew.
A large, barren oval,
Given meaning only by juxtaposition
Of the healthy crops surrounding.
Stumps of wheat shot from the soil -
These crops were harvested in haste.
In the center,
A bundle of sticks had been piled:
Their height reaching near my head.
On opposite sides,
Two gigantic logs lay parallel;
At their farthest end from me,
Lay a blue fold-out chair.
"I made us a spot," Uncle Jerry said,
Gesturing to the middle of the clearing.
"That chair is mine," Uncle Jerry stated.
"But y'all can sit wherever else you want."
Racing to the logs,
Weaving between each other;
Calling who each of us will sit with.
Little legs and little arms,
Scaling oak mountains.
Arms of the successful extend,
Assisting their grounded comrades.
Shoes grasp bark.
Dread begins to set in,
As my brother hangs,
The ground beneath
Becomes a lake of lava.
We have to pull him up
Aboard the raft of safety!
To let go now
Would mean certain death.
“I can’t make it!”
Cries my brother.
“Go on without me!”
“Don’t give up!”
Our grip begins to weaken.
“Don’t let go!”
My cousin grabs hold of my waist.
“Heave!” She screams,
As she pulls me backwards.
I fall back onto my cousin,
As my brother launches forward
On top of us.
We cheer in celebration.
Uncle Jerry laughs.
“Are my adventurers hungry?” He asks,
Revealing the prize once again:
Collective consensus arises:
Uncle Jerry takes a handful of sticks,
Distributing one to each of us,
And one for himself.
Snapping the longer sticks in half -
And returning them atop the stockpile -
Like a broken city of bones.
Uncle Jerry reaches into his overalls,
Retrieving an archaic silver lighter.
Worn, and scratched,
But still gleaming.
A mirror of the moon.
Uncle Jerry kneels down,
To the base of the firewood.
Sparks, once, twice,
Mumbled curses from Uncle Jerry,
And apologies soon after.
Requests for us to forget
And not to repeat:
“Damned thing is broken.”
Once more sparks, but this time,
Uncle Jerry hovers the flame
Just above the bottom sticks –
Tickling the branch until it ignites.
Uncle Jerry steps back,
As the blaze licks other branches,
The city of bones
Becomes an inferno.
The heat wave is almost instant,
Like warm kisses
All over my face.
“Yeehaw!” Uncle Jerry exclaims.
“Who’s ready for some roastin’?”
“Me! Me!” We respond,
Waving our sticks in excitement.
Uncle Jerry walks around the fire,
Placing a marshmallow gently
Atop each of our sticks.
I was a wizard –
Better yet a king!
My staff was my authority,
And I would rule candy land.
I would demand the finest:
Candy canes from the North Pole,
Gummy bears from the Forbidden Forests,
And rock candy:
Straight from the royal mines.
I cast my marshmallow into the flame
To accentuate my power.
If they would accept me as king,
With naught but a raw marshmallow;
How much more could I gain
With a perfectly roasted one?
Like the color of my throne.
My rule would be absolute.
The bonfire denied me my wishes -
I misunderstood our boundaries.
I cast my marshmallow too far,
And my gem was set ablaze.
I pulled my scepter back,
But it was too late.
My treasure was consumed.
Turned black as a naughty child’s
Perhaps I was never meant to rule.
Uncle Jerry laughed
Upon seeing my marshmallow.
We all did!
I pinched the blackened skin
Off my marshmallow,
And threw it back into the fire.
Though burnt on the outside,
The marshmallow tasted just as good.
Wiping my sticky fingers
On my new blue jeans,
Uncle Jerry began telling stories:
Stories of adventures.
Fighting fire breathing dragons,
Battling for treasure,
And a warrior named “Achilles”
Who was almost unkillable.
He pointed out constellations,
As he told us their stories:
The Big Dipper,
The Little Dipper,
Wecouldn’t see all of them, though.
The night grew older,
As Uncle Jerry began playing harmonica.
He promised to teach me one day
If Ma ever bought one for me.
Something told me she wouldn’t.
Fatigue grew in my eyes,
As my gaze shifted upwards.
My cousin leaned on my shoulder,
My brother stared into the fire,
Determined not to succumb
The same way my cousin did.
I watched embers lift from the fire:
Twisting, turning, dancing,
Ascending into the sky,
Eventually losing their glow,
And vanishing into the night.
I tried to recall the constellations
As Uncle Jerry pointed out…
But I could only remember the Big Dipper.
Half-awake, I dreamed:
Dreamed of my own adventures.
Could I be a knight?
In that moment I knew:
Though I may not be strong,
I needed adventure.
The rush of adrenaline,
The thrill of the chase,
The ecstasy of conquering.
If there were no heroes like me,
I would become my inspiration.
I would rise from nothing,
Defeat the odds,
Prove everyone wrong;
I would become a legend.
The crickets began to grow quiet,
As Uncle Jerry’s song became slow.
I watched, as two embers rose,
Dancing in synchronization
With one another.
They were magnificent.
Spinning, hovering with each other.
These ballerinas were in love.
Delicate, elegant movements,
Brought them closer and closer,
Until they finally embraced:
Than they ever did alone.
My mouth gaped, in awe,
As the dancers’ glow
And the curtain call of darkness
Signaled the end of the spectacle.
With a weak smile,
And heavy eyes,
I too became like the dancers,
And gave in to the night.