C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Next Door

By: Julie Nelson



Step outside. The air is fragrant with burning wood

after rain. Next door, your neighbor lit a fire in a pit

and every few moments a tendril of smoke

curls toward you on the wind, over the high fence,

and you feel less alone.


You hardly know them, really.

What do you know about them?


Maybe in winter the sound of a shovel

scraping their driveway or early morning in summer

the low hum of mowing. You wave to each other

on occasional days, you would help them

if you had to, you cannot remember

their name.


Just now, it’s as if you are back by a bonfire

on a long-ago beach, carrying driftwood with your brothers

over sand, touching a lit match

to newsprint, the edges catching

as sparks rise and float on air


as they are now, the same,

exactly the same


and though your neighbor

cannot see you, cannot know how close you are

sitting on your twilight lawn, there is a bond

which cannot be broken

by fences or years,

the warmth of bonfires

always burning.




Julie R. Nelson is a creative writer and educator who lives in Iowa City, Iowa. Her stories and poems have appeared in Cathexis Northwest Press, Passenger's Journal, Passagers, and Critical Reads, and she is currently at work on a novel, Inland Sea.


"One morning recently, on a Saturday, I was sitting on the hill in our backyard watching to see if a hummingbird would find the feeder I'd re-filled with fresh sugar water. From the back of the yard on the top of the hill, while waiting for the hummingbird, I heard my neighbors on either side of me. The pandemic has me feeling grateful for ordinary moments, kind gestures, and simple things, and the sound of a neighbor's voice over the fence was what inspired the poem. I made up the part about a bonfire! Also, it was not raining but sunny and hot (I live in the Midwest where it gets humid by 8:00 am). But a bonfire conjures up so primal a feeling of gathering and bonding over stories, something I've yearned for in these pandemic times. It felt right to have a fire in the poem."