Luke Johnson

Burn the Scarecrow

Remember the smell of a match gone out.
Remember gust after gust bending stalks

as you cupped your hands around slow-burning
cornsilk jammed in the wristless sleeves.

Remember night, heat on your palms.
And your mother, chemo-ravaged

and still, watching from a candlelit porch.
She reached for your wrist that morning,

said only, I want you to burn the scarecrow.
So you did: you soaked its workshirt in kerosene

and watched black smoke lick button-eyes
hollow: an effigy burning itself to a cross.

When the wind catches smoke,
it sweeps ash from the sky. You look

to the porch and your mother is gone.
The corn and the birds stare as they always do.

So you step closer—you draw as close
as you can to the char until you can almost feel

sweat boiling on your brow like thousands
of stinging bees, your eyes forced closed,

but you stay as long as you can,
straw man burning as the crows begin to roar.

Luke Johnson is the author of After the Ark. Recent poems have appeared in Shenandoah, Southern Review, Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Seattle.