Burning | Alison Armstrong

In that first hour,
with the cricket swell of the air
– a mass ventriloquy gives voice
to the coming night.
On the table, a glass of village wine,
the stem cold between my fingers.

Darkness throws up the first stars.
And peeled from outer layers come
the other sounds, the barking of dogs on the dust road
standing ground.
And further out
a shot from the shepherd’s antiquated gun,
ravenous into its own echo.
Protecting.

And later in bed, at some untimed hour,
it comes,
when all the sounds have died down
– a sudden breaking of this breathing quiet.
A cry, some wrenched out wail.
Chilling the silence as it fills back in.
Then again. And again. It comes.
Bites at the heart.

Half-way through the night it stopped.

Waking to the hollow expectation of morning.
Fraying at the edges
so even our shadows conspire
against us.

This calling in the night. The source of it was found.
This time, a dead dog on the waste ground outside.
The flies already on it.
We bring paraffin and set it alight.
Watch the muscles shrink and tighten.
The shocked pull of the carcass.
We watch in silence
and see, through the flames, the bearing of its teeth.

We erase,
rebuild,
can only live by forgetting


Alison Armstrong has been writing for many years and has been long listed and short listed for several prizes/awards, and had poems, essays and stories published in magazines, anthologies. In 2017 she won a Northern Writers’ Award for fiction and was commended in the Bath Flash Fiction Award. More recently she was shortlisted in Harper’s Bazaar Short Fiction Prize (2019) and commended in Galley Beggar Short Fiction Prize (2018/2019). She lives and works as a waitress and painter in Lancaster, UK.