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
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
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."