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Burn Pit

by Mary Armstrong

2011, 23 pages

"Burn Pit"

Today we burn the sediment - a crust of oil
that lines the pit behind the Hoffman Well.
Smoke sends the stench of sulfer
through the woods, clouds windows
of the Hoffman's house, and drops a mist of ash
into the wide eyes of a wooden
cow, staked in front yard grass.

Mrs. Hoffman watches from her porch,
one hand across her mouth, the other
at her heart. We keep our distance
from the flame, let it have its way
with what has hardened in the pit.
In the swift exchange from heat to blaze,
a burning harvest mouse runs circles in the
wild grass until it is more fire than mouse.
When it falls into the last glow of flame,
one of us stamps what is left into the dirt.

Bees rise like sparks from yellow grass.
The Hoffman's dog pulls at his chain.
Old dog, there's nothing you can do
but stand the smoke and wait, like us,
incidental now to what we've set, waiting
for the end of fire.


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Audio Samples:

Listen to "Burn Pit"

As read by the author,

Mary Armstrong


About the Authors:

Mary Armstrong is a native of Los Angeles, where she serves as the financial officer of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival. She previously served as co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets Series. Her poems have appeared in more than 30 literary journals, including The Missouri Review, Nimrod, The Burnside Review, and The Potomac Review, and in the anthologies Grand Passion: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond and Open Windows. She has been a finalist in numerous poetry contests, including Ireland's Strokestown International Poetry Prize. She is president of an independent oil and gas production company and lives in West Hills, California, with her husband.


Praise For Burn Pit

Honest, direct, impeccably crafted, Mary Armstrong's Burn Pit offers a ground-level look at the business of oil, her words as muscular - and lyrical - as the roughnencks and roustabouts who make the wells pump and the poisoned black gold flow.

- Charles Harper Webb

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