The 2River View 26.4 (Summer 2022)

Jessica Freeman

Building a Fire with Dad

Years before he died we
dragged trash to the pile,
rolled old tires, trail brush,
and rotted wood salvaged
from our house after the flood.
He arched his back and laughed
as I poked the flames, making
them dance higher, closer to
the front porch. I was always in love
with—never afraid of—fire. A beer can
in his right hand, his hunting vest, his orange
hat. Together we etched flames into the field
as dirt and ash soaked my fire-washed
hands and face. It was our ceremony.
Dad’s raspy voice thick under a haloed sky.
His feet firmly planted on the knuckled
roots of a plum tree. His brown skin
and scratchy beard rubbed in the scent
of river, rubbed in the scent of fire.
You never know that one day these flames
will matter, that this may be your last fire.
That flames may be all that’s left of him
to carry inside of you. That you’ll take
this fire with you, carry it across acres and plains
and cities. It is possible to love someone
even when you are angry, sad, and broken.
Even when you think you shouldn’t.

Cuiver River                               

In scorched daylight
              my brother and cousins
did black flips
off the top of a bright orange
      pontoon boat my dad
had bought used that summer.
   I barely knew the oak trees
that shuddered above us,
        or the top of the muddy water
glazed in plastic swimming tubes
    and soda can cozies. I did a dead
man float next to black snakes
    whose thick bodies swerved too close
to my ankles and shins,
    their long bodies like the oiled skin
of a sunbather. Those snakes
without a thought or care of me
      in the too deep waters
that were already rising
      against the lush verdant green
banks of the river,
         during a year
when we had money,
a year when no creditors
                          were calling the house,
 year when the river was swelling but hadn’t
     yet burst, and the air around
us was grated in mercy and pleasure.
   Laughter rang across our tanned skin
and rapture gathered us together
             in the beds of that widening river
before he tore so many in half,
          before he stained the deepest parts of us.
It was a year when no one was yet

Jessica Freeman has work published in The Mississippi Review, The McNeese Review, Third Coast, Yemassee, and others. Her MFA is from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and her MA is from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

 << Abigail Dembo Michael Hettich >>
Copyright 2River. Please do not use or reproduce without permission.