Thick, Black Smoke
by Brandy Williams
I rake leaves, place
in pile, and toss match. A
hard day’s work drips
from my brow. Flames duel,
dancing a waltz before ravaging
blood heart of a half-eaten
carcass. Acorns pop, whistle
like fighter planes dropping
from heaven. Pale, yellow earth
turns red. Smoke soaks
up landscape; white clouds drift
on breath currents.
White smoke is natural; black
We stood in shade,
methodically cleaning residue
from guns. I stepped out back
and lit up.
Black smoke—thick, black smoke billowed in air:
“Hey, what’s that?” I asked, pointing at the smoke.
“I’m not sure; white smoke is natural; black
is manmade,” he said.
We went back to the shade.
The radio chirped panicked voices—
“Ranger Five—Blackjack—landline, Now!”
The Humvee’s squealing tires,
the sergeant yelling—
“Get your gear! Plane down! Plane down!”
broke me from my trance.
We race across the desert,
as barren as my womb, heading
towards smoke—thick, black smoke.
Sand hammers my mouth, my lungs. We
follow smoke, catch air; up, down,
white knuckled, grind to a halt.
Pebbles drift over canyon’s edge—falls
like stone snow; imagine falling
like a stone, spiraling
to an unconscious end
on the crushed basalt below.
We tightrope the canyon’s edge
with our gear. It is there, the smoke—
thick, black smoke. And
just beyond the range—
Hydrazine attacks my body
like a swarm of bees, and I
breathe shards of glass.
“What’s that smell?” I ask,
sniffing the air. Horrid, rancid—
like three day old meat, baking
under a desert sun. The world swirled
like a spindle top flipped
on its axis.
He is there, in the flames, floundering
like a fish finning for air.
Sinewy flesh drips
Heat of a thousand suns scars
my face, melts off his. Flames dance
in his eyes.
for him, withdraw my charred
hand. He’s waving,
waving goodbye. No, it’s
just my nephew running
through vapor fields.
Brandy Williams is an Air Force veteran who served as a jet engine mechanic and an independent duty medical technician from 1997-2010. After she separated from the military, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in from Louisiana State University at Alexandria. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Southern Studies at Ole Miss.