Peter Markus


Burning Up


Us brothers are out back, we are out back in the back of our backyard, burning leaves with our backyard father, when Brother turns back around to face off with our father to ask our father does he know if mud will burn. Our father shrugs with his shoulders and grunts that he doesn’t know if mud will burn of not, says, We’ll have to wait ourselves to see. But wait: us brothers, we have been waiting and wanting to see things burn for quite a long time now, ever since the smokestacked mill sitting black and silent our our dirty river’s dirty rivershore stopped setting fire to that dirty river sky that holds this dirty river town below it down in its dirty river place. The sky here in this dirty river town, it has been raining so many rivers of late, so much mud and rain and thunder, that when we do set fire to the raked up leaves that us brothers, we rake them into leafy piles here in the back of our backyard, heaped back in the mud that used to be our mother’s garden, what the heaped up leaves do is they most just sit there and smoke—these leaves: they do no burn. And so that night, after our father has gone back inside of our house and has gotten himself all undressed and then redressed for his going to bed sleeping and is then sound asleep in bed, our father with our mother, a wadded up lump of clothes in bed beside him, what I do is I whisper to Brother, through the late-night hushness of our room, Brother, let’s go see. See what? is what Brother mumbles with his mouth mushing up against his pillow. See, I say to Brother, if the mud will burn or not, I say. I say it real slow, and I hold up for Brother’s eyes to see a boxful of matchsticks, and then I strike up a matchstick so that Brother can better see. Your face, Brother tells me. It is a half of a moon, is what Brother says. Good, Brother, I say to him back. What I can see now, here in this light, is that Brother, he is right here with me in what we both want ourselves to go see. Let’s go, Brother, I say, and I let the matchstick’s fire burn down until it burns down to the tips of my dirty boy fingers. Back outside, the moon’s other half, the moon’s other half brother, it is a moon that is fully glowing. There is a fire that burns inside the moon. There is a light inside of that lighthouse. Even a brother born blind would be able to see this. Now, see this for yourself: us brothers, out in the moon’s cut-in-half light, we go out to our father’s backyard shed, out to where our father keeps his muddy buckets and muddy shovels, his wood-rot ladders and those tools of his too big to keep in a box, and what we do inside of this outside place is we tiptoe up and then lower on down from where it is sitting, rusting half the way up on its shelf, a steel gas tank filled up inside with gasoline. It, this gas-filled tank, it is mostly full, and it is heavy, and so we lug it together, the two of us brothers, out back into the back of our yard, back to where our mother’s garden, it is mostly just mud and leaves. What us brothers do next is, we screw off the gas can’s rusted lid and we walk with it in a circle out around the weedy edge of the garden, tilting it like so so that the liquid inside it slowly pizzles out. When this can is good and empty of all that was inside it, I fish out two matchsticks out of the matchstick box and I turn around to stand face to face with Brother. Watch this, I say to Brother’s face, and I drag each matchstick along the strip of sandpapery black that runs along the sides of this box. The red tips of the matchsticks turn redder now with fire. I reach out and hand one of these lit matchstick matches over to Brother’s reaching out hand. The empty gas can, I take this out of Brother’s other hand. Now listen: there are a few things us brothers can do with these matchsticks burning in our boy hands. We could, with our blowing out breath, blow the lit matchsticks out. We could, too, with a quick flick of our wrists, just like this, snuff the matchstick fires black. Or—and this is what we do do—we could drop the lit up matchsticks into the mud to see what happens: to see if the mud is going to burn. So watch this: when we drop, on the count of one, two, three, our lit up matchsticks into the mud, the mud catches fire with a hiss. This hissing, it is a sound that us brothers, we have never heard mud make this sound ever before. Listen with us now to this mud burning. The mud, it is alive now with flame and with fire. No, Brother, there is nothing slow and just smoking away about the way that this fire is burning. Us brothers, we are jumping back now just to keep our boots from catching on fire. The mud, it is good and it is burning. Brother, it is on fire! Us brothers, we raise up our dirty boy hands up to the fire to keep the light from this fire from burning, from frying up, from boiling hard, our boy eyes up. Watch out, we say to each other brother, and we each of us brothers take two steps back and from the fire away. We keep taking more and more steps, back and then back, to keep this fire, this burning up mud, away from the both of us. We only do stop taking steps back and away from these burning up flames when we hear the sound of our father. It is his voice that is calling out to us brothers this word that he calls us, Son. Us, our father’s sons, when we hear our father calling this word out to us brothers, us brothers, we always stop and drop what it is we are doing to see why our father is calling us out. Our father, we see, when we turn toward the sound that he is making with his mouth, we see that he is standing, boxed in, framed, hung is what it looks like to us, by the opening of our house’s back door. Our father’s face, his head, his whole man body, it is all lit up with the mud’s burning up light. See, is what our father is saying to us then, he is nodding at us brothers with his head. Us brothers, we can see. Us brothers, we can feel the fire closing in closing behind us. We nod, too, back at our father, but move, us brothers, we do not do. Our boots, us brothers, we are stuck here in this mud. We are waiting. Us brothers, we are watching to see. What did I tell you. This is what our father says to us. Patience is the word that he says. Patience, this is us brothers being patient. My boy hands, where it is holding onto the gas can’s rusted metal handle, it is good and it is heating up. When it blows, us brothers, we do not feel a thing. After, when we look back down on all of this burning up mud, what we see is our father: our father, he is down on his man hands and man knees, down in the mud and dirt and leaves, and he is trying, with his hands, to pick us brothers, us sons, up. But what our father doesn’t know is this. Us brothers, we are up in smoke now. Us brothers, we are brothers rising in the sky now. This is us brothers burning up.