The homeless hermit burned
and bounced off the door frame:
arms curled, feeling his way
with his elbows. He bored his fists
into his eyes, spinning, shambling
down the steps; each plank shattered
from the flames and his weight.

I watched, barefoot and booted
from home that morning by Mom.
The ocean-blue, childhood sky
withered like scorched popcorn.

The shack folded behind the hermit.
Its rotten wood collapsed and spat
shooting stars that sparked and hissed
in the weeds by my feet. Paralyzed
by the venom of the moment, choked
by the emetic stench of cooked flesh,
I felt the pull of death when he saw me.

His hands, charred black and roasted red,
clawed through the blue, squeezing the sky,
pleading with me to trade my clean youth
for his last embrace. Each step toward me
became heavier, death yanking, restraining
him. Then, his singed lips kissed the dirt.

Mom had spared me from cartoon violence,
insisted I get some exercise. My home,
beyond the empty fields, through thorns
and trees, past the lonely summer streams,
was a crinkling photo—its colors distorted,
its borders simmering like a fish in the sun.

I shriveled as that man died at my feet.
The holes in his clothes surged and flared.
I felt too dry to cry or speak. My breath
fried over his sizzling skin. Like kindling,
his hair popped. Each time I heard it, the sound
and shock to my young heart boxed my ears.

Someone saw the smoke, and men in yellow
coats, hoses like water snakes, shook me
and took me home. The memory still lies
in cinders, smoldering.