Rooster learned to swallow flames
by watching Swan in bright red suit. Crooked Swan,
Orangutan King smirked. Such a nasty woman.
On top of his stilt-legs draped in pink fringe, wearing
green-gold head feathers and red tail extensions, Rooster
juggled a ballet, a coin, and his new torch. Crow hovered
over the wind-bent lake, circled the wharf, plunged for the coin.
Dog jumped up and grabbed Rooster’s hat, raced back
and forth with it clenched in his jaw. Waves broke
over the pier. Rooster arched back, raised the torch.
At first, a strong gust stretched trembling fire out
toward the ring of people. Come closer, he said, clicking
along slats of the pier. I’m working here. I could be
robbing houses, Rooster cried, Yours! and held up
the flame. A few people laughed. Dog, hat in jaw,
herded them as they dug into pockets and purses.
Crow, using her best engineering skills, dropped
the coin from fourteen feet directly into Dog’s
begging hat. The crowd guffawed and applauded.
Lake tossed sheets of light over the pier.
Rooster bent into the wind, pink fringe of stilts
flapping like shredded flags. Then the flame shot
back a blanket of burning light. Crow’s caw,
from the cave of her throat, caused an encore
of gasps and claps. Dog, thumped his tail,
thick as a dock rope, against the pier. Rooster,
covered in flames, tilted on his stilts, remembered,
as Dog shoved him into the lake: Swan did not
quiver, she inhaled a volcano of rage, leaned into
the gap of the next question as if the floor
were about to break open, as if she were
about to be swallowed – red and burning and whole.
Copyright © Jim Nason. Originally published in Rooster, Dog, Crow (Frontenac House, 2018).
Jim Nason is the author of six volumes of poetry, a short story collection and three novels. He has been a finalist for the CBC Literary Award in both the fiction and poetry categories. He was on the ‘Longshortlist’ for the 2018 ReLit Poetry Award, and his poems have been included in anthologies across the United States and Canada, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008, 2010 and 2014. Jim is the founder and organizer of Canada’s annual human rights poetry event Meet Me in the Middle: Writers on Rights. Visit Jim’s website at www.jimnason.com.
See the League’s 2019 Book Awards Shortlists here.