The Burning

Way back when I was very young--about twenty--
I had a different way of thinking about writing.
There was nothing relative about the process,
no one-to-one relationship between sending out,
getting accepted, paid, recognized, etcetera.
No, it was a ritual you went through
that was supposed to make things happen all by itself.
And this is what enabled me to sit at home and write
until there was nothing left to eat in the house,
no money to pay the bills, no cigarettes, no nothing.
It was all right to do that, you see, because
the writing was going to change things all by itself and
so even if it looked as though I wasn't doing anything, I was.
Well, when it finally came to me that nothing
was really happening after all and that I had to
go back out _there_ again and get some kind of job,
it was very disillusioning, not to mention scary.
Drastic measures had to be taken.
One of the ways that I expressed my disillusionment
and at the same time prepared my mind to experience
the world of things again was to hold a burning.
There was a big oil drum in the back yard for burning trash
and I would load it with all the failed pieces,
put a match to them and stand and watch them burn.
And as they burned, I could feel something inside me
burning its way back to reality. And when everything was burned,
I found myself cleansed, purified, wiped out and ready
as I would ever be to go down to the employment office
and give myself up. Needless to say, it hurt.
I didn't understand what was wrong with my magic.
Standing there, watching the flames curl out of the top of that
rusted drum, it seemed to me that something was terribly wrong.
Looking back, the burning was probably a good thing:
if I have ever written anything worthwhile, it was not then.
And, looking around me now, I probably should have burned more,
probably should be burning still.
There's a place in the back yard just suited for an oil drum.
Why don't I use it?
But a part of me, after all these years, is still sad.
I grieve for that young man who couldn't seem to
reconcile his two worlds without burning one of them.
And, in my mind's eye, I see myself, grown much older,
kneeling before that rusted drum, gathering up the ashes,
and holding them, just holding them,
thinking of all that has been burned away through the years
and wondering how much more will have to be burned away
before the miracles start happening.


Albert Huffstickler.
From _On The Doorstep of the Heart_
(c) 1995. Zero City Press.