VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Ryan Quinn Flanagan

First in Class

He showed up early that morning.

Sat in his usual chair at the back of the class.

Beside the periodic table on the wall

with all those initials and never any explanation.

He opened a book from the library

and pretended to be reading.

People reading always seemed like they were pretending too.

As though no one was reading at all and just thinking

about sex on a waterbed.

That made the most sense.

Other students began showing up.

Paying him no attention just as they always did.

Not noticing the large bulge in his schoolbag

on the floor this morning.

A quick look to the clock.

Having rehearsed this moment in his head

a thousand times.

Waiting for the teacher to come in

and close the door.

For everyone to stop pretending 

to read books for good.

Straw Man, Fire Woman

Did your father whip you like you say?

she asks.

All fathers did, it was the times.

Why do you think “wait until your father gets home”

held so much weight?

It wasn’t “wait until your father gets home 

and goes right to bed with tiredness.”

He wasn’t playing a game of tiddly winks.

I guess I was lucky I was a girl,

she says.

I never had to deal with that.

We just give each other eating disorders.

The wine is going down fast tonight.

It has been dark since six.

She says I can cut her hair

and I shake my head no vehemently.

I’m not walking into that trap!

I say.

A man knows better or at least he should.

Pulling at her long stringy hear,

she makes a face.

The hairdressers has been closed for over a year.

She wants to get her hair cut in the worst way.

It’s easy for men, 

she says.

You just shave your head 

and you’re fine.

I’ll shave your head,

I offer.

No!

she shouts.

Never mess with a woman’s hair,

I laugh.

That’s the first thing you learn.

She sits back 

and smiles because she knows 

I am right.

But she can’t stop pulling at her hair.

She can feel it getting longer by the hour.

I offer to buzz her head down twice more

that night.

Making that sound of taking it all away

that she has always

hated so much. 

We Could Strangers

Young kids.

Young ways.

Everyone waves goodbye

never believing it the last time.

With large foam hands

you can get at the stadium so the 

local sports teams can cover up

for personal shortcomings.

That Dracula Does Dallas way my feet sweat in the dark.

Veiny and hung over the side of failing 

dry mouth world.

Salty sports bar peanuts leaving the shell.

Bus station runaways never in the driver’s seat.

This way the flu climbs up my face 

like some cheeky rose Renoir

doing sooty jerk Paris.

Parades are a war of people,

I have always wanted some long

personal armistice.

Ignoring that dirty shave water way

we used to collect around the hairy backlogged  

drains of each other. 

Kiss at swollen drive-in lips 

so that the ticklish hours

escape the screen.

Someone brought a wall down

and I am lost in the resale value 

of ferocious landlords.

That crinkly newspaper way

you sit beside me 

on the trains.

We could be strangers.

After all this time together. 

Morning coffee so strong.

Both of us in our housecoats,

refusing to get dressed.

A tray of punch-drunk cigarettes

forever between us.

Four Letters into Someone Else’s Tired Alphabet 

Hooper drained his beer,

trying to belch out the alphabet.

Only getting four letters in

before all fortitude left him.

Joekel drained his beer

and tried to place it in the chain link fence.

It fell and shattered on the sidewalk

beside his feet.

Amateur!

mocked Pete.

You have stick the thing in on a lean.

Guess he ain’t used to sticking it in,

joked Hooper.

Joekel gave him the finger.

You know the one.

When you have been bested 

and there is nothing else to say.

Pete chugged his beer and placed it on the 

perfect lean in the chain link fence.

Sure enough, it stayed there.

Like a true thing of beauty.

Crumpled song-less crickets in the near-distance.

The sound of balding tires skidding across pavement.

Let’s go lift some snacks from the Korean,

Hooper nudged Joekel in the side.

A two block trek

through the sleeping world.

Humping through a jungle of lawn ornaments

 to corner convenience.

Joekel standing out front.

Playing lookout 

as always.

Under the constant buzz of that neon burnout sign

that seemed to attract everything

and nothing at the same time.

Joekel thinking of that empty beer bottle

on the lean.

How the first person to come across 

such beauty would never see it.

Knocking it off 

with some giant thoughtless paw

of a swat in passing.

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