61. Highway 54: Controlled Burn

Eastern Kansas, hills pungent

with controlled burn: my eyes

sting, black clouds rise


into angry evening. All about me,

ribbons of flame unspooled

by grim-faced men with rusty


pickups. Sunglasses

conceal their eyes

as they watch the sky,


the night clear,

free of portentous clouds.

Rain will not come.


And if it did, they would still

burn, unwilling to risk

disaster, fires twisting


from these fallow

fields those newly planted.

Sharp-lined faces know too well


mercy’s cost, destroy

what they must to save

the rest. One man turns


his head to watch me pass,

glasses black as his hair

outlined against red flame,


orange sky. He nods,

I nod, accelerate

toward home, towards


whatever still remains.

— Izzy Wasserstein

Izzy Wasserstein was born and raised on the Great Plains and currently teaches at Washburn University in Topeka, KS. She received her MFA from the University of New Mexico in 2006. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Flint Hills Review, Blue Mesa Review, Coal City Review, BorderSenses and elsewhere.

One thought on “61. Highway 54: Controlled Burn

  1. I once lived in a small town right on Highway 54, with ranchers all around me, so I quickly became accustomed to this annual ritual of fire and smoke. The poem does a superb job of capturing the scene.

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