The Burn Circus

Orange-and-white striped
sawhorses blockade center
field, dandelions and
goldenrod juicy underfoot.

For a limp banner of small,
square flags, clothesline’s
strung between poles anchored
in cement-filled barrels. People
tamp out cigarettes on that
cement. And someone scratched
Jackie luvs Tony 4-eva
on the rusty container.

They’re not interested
in Jackie and Tony. She
wants to hold her wife’s hand,
glances around them uneasily,
points to the sign instead:
The Burn Circus, it reads.

Men fill canteens with kerosene,
women line the perimeter,
smothering blankets in hand.
A lanky, shirtless man
pocked with pink-stripe scars
swings two ropes; hoops
and batons lay in intervals
around the ring. When sunlight
retires, the man ignites
his ropes, twirling them
freely, dancing through them,
a teenage immortal in ecstasy.

Not being burned, but watching
fire swirled and pivoted through
night sky—stalwart blanket
holders nearby—they’re safe
enough to nudge each other, gesture
subtly with a nod, even grin.

A girl joins the man in the make-
shift arena, hair tucked under her
charcoal grey cap. Snaking
herself into his ropes and out
again, she smiles mysteriously,
lifts one hoop, and throws
up,             up,             up. It, too,
ignites suddenly—whoosh.

They gasp: the crowd, the couple.

On landing, the fiery ring doesn’t
respond to the baton—it rolls toward
the waiting perimeter. But the blanket
holder cringes,

steps aside.

An onlooker yanks off his jacket; one
swift flick extinguishes everything,
.          like goldenrod at a campsite,
.          like cigarettes on concrete,
.          like hand-holding in Missouri.



Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 12.12.49 PMAlina Borger is a writer and a high-school teacher in Iowa City, IA. Her most recent work appeared most recently in Kindred, The Mom Egg Review, and Brain, Child. When she’s not writing or teaching, she’s cheering for soccer matches between her two boys or curling up with a good book and a mug of chamomile tea. You can find her on Twitter @AliBG or online at

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