After the west there will be the east.
After the east there will be the south.
After the south there will be a dog
pacing backward on a plain of dust
extracting a red string from a grackle’s
throat, to tie around the oath
I took to consult the auspices
prior to exercises in compass,
pessimist, deception, a limb cut
down by wind, detached on grass
reaches up, fleeced in ice, as if I’m
to shake its knobby hand and atone.
We argue about the volume of water
needed to put out our fire. Liters,
you say, dumping Nalgene
after Nalgene in slow cascades,
making split logs hiss, embers
punished out of the red
end of the spectrum, wetted
down to scales of char.
Then just to make sure
you go back for more, obliterate
smoke that is no more
evidence of flame, but of loitering
heat that must, too, go.
I want it the way we used to:
warmed by bourbon and Hershey’s
you’d crawl into the tent,
unlace your boots and wait
for me to piss a phrase on the pit,
written unwritten. Or we’d fill
the bear canister up to the lip
and in one emphatic whump
take the danger out
but let the pile smolder
overnight opposite stars,
occasional pop reminding us,
as we drifted off, what goes on
beyond the zippered door.
TED MATHYS is the author of three books of poetry, Null Set (2015), The Spoils (2009) and Forge (2005), all from Coffee House Press. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Poetry Society of America. He lives in Saint Louis, teaches at Saint Louis University, and co-curates the Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts Poetry Series.