Ransacking The Archive: Kerosene

Lawren Harris. Ice House.

A father’s rant. 1996. For Brendan.


When you need to know
how to stay alive one more day
find some sand, an old oil drum
a gallon of kerosene.
A gallon costs a buck.
If you can’t scrounge a dollar a day
there’s no hope.
Fill the drum half full of sand.
Pour the kerosene slowly
till it soaks to the bottom.
Save a little to light a rag.
It’ll burn a low blue flame
24 hours, maybe more.
There’ are old barrels everywhere
but don’t use them if they smell
like toxic shit – you know
toluene, methylene chloride.
You’re not huffing this stuff,
you’re trying to maintain
some animal heat.
If you’re not scared of cancer
or your kids turning into mutants
or something, why worry
about one more day?
You can get sand lots of places
besides a beach.
Mine tailings, stamp sand, railroad cinder,
Hell, diamond dust works if you’ve got it.
The finer the ballast, the slower the burn.
Use what you’ve got
but don’t fool with the fuel.
Diesel works but the smoke
gives you away.
Try jet fuel or gasoline
and you’re fucked in a flash -
and maybe that’s what you want.
But when you need to see tomorrow
when the sun’s just an angry lip kissing
the night’s ass and a cloud of breath’s
the only thing between you and the stars
when the northern lights spook you
and coyotes howl on empty bellies
because they won’t make it, either
when you forget the name of the last
woman you slept with, how her hair
smelled like wood smoke
her skin a soft steady flame
when you need to know
remember kerosene.

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2 Responses to Ransacking The Archive: Kerosene

  1. odilean says:

    thank you, mark. i enjoy reading your poetry. it’s nice to take a break from my banal reality and get a little sliver of someone else’s cyber imaginary. i hope you keep on doing what you do here. i like how your blog goes off on tangents, it must be nice not to have an agenda to write about. i, too often, have trouble filling posts because many days i find what is going on in fashion completely uninteresting. i guess the truth is that since i’ve entered school my life has changed abruptly and i no longer have room to think or dream. the curiculum that i’m doing is very militant, as you can probably imagine since you know a lot about medical education. anyway, these next two weeks are a killer-i have a practical or exam almost every day-so i might have to excuse myself from blogging for a little while. or maybe not since right now procrastination is fueling every one of my thoughts.

  2. Mark Willis says:

    I do know how that goes. I have an imaginary agenda for the blog, but I’m happiest when I skip it at the spur of the moment. These poems from the past were always written on stolen time when I should have been doing something else. Whatever that was is long gone, but the poems remain. As John Cage said, “Art is whatever you can get away with.”

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