Incen / diary

A close-up photograph of a wood match burning
PHOTO:  SkitterPhoto/Pexels

considering the Upstairs Lounge Fire 

We tipped our sticks to the gravel like the bent
spines of men groveling beneath trunks of smoke

to lure the barbed larvae from the oak-sheltered
path horseshoeing the Catholic church. 

The same church we’d slink inside to extinguish
our June-noon thirst, & same oaks buck moth

caterpillars fell from as if the foil-garbed boughs
were crowned in flame. Never did they

sting us. Still, we considered it a service
to the cul-de-sac — cull as many pests as possible;

scrape them into an inescapable jar. Their heads 
red as fresh scabs; red as the 32ct matches

prior to us striking the tips against the strip
of phosphoric friction. When the burning caught

they jerked & swayed like lovers behind a piano
set ablaze, their guts gushed black as tar

& their remains wilted like the butts of old cigars.
We took a step back to listen to the fire crackle

like leaves underfoot, to behold a few hump away 
& others glow in ascension. We witnessed them

become charcoal-winged combustion that flitted
from white to yellow to orange to nothing.

Photo © Melissa Lukenbaugh

Clemonce Heard is the winner of the 2020 Anhinga–Robert Dana Prize for Poetry, selected by Major Jackson. His collection, Tragic City, which investigates the events of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, is forthcoming from Anhinga Press in October 2021.