Sébastien Luc Butler


Here are the boys & you among the boys, trying not to trip in the language of self-pursuit, on the field of self-pursuit, sun-splintered fog wrapping itself around mud-shellacked shins. Dig deep, Coach says, meaning evacuate your thought. You are a dirt hole, a pile of uprootedness. You dirtbag, he insults you into kicking up gears in the race’s final stretch, You piece of shit & fuel’s added to the fire, smoke reaches up your throat. Push through the pain. As if it’s just another thing to penetrate, halve & therefore diminish, wood out back needing chopping.

This is how you were taught to feel, remember? To let the earth be graced by you before crushing it underfoot. Surging wildfire at base of lungs. This cleft space where you are flint & spark, tinderbox & kindling. Kindling & youngling, sisters suffocated by the same suffix. Ling—denoting diminutive. Kindling: a kind kid swallowed by pejorative. You are air swallowed into flames & the void it leaves behind. You are quartered wood heart you yourself have chopped, have triumphantly stuck the hatchet into & the hatchet also. You are the field burning.

The cold cave of your mouth, moist as your friend’s face one time in the schoolyard you socked him in the nose, tasted him on your knuckles. How you took & held him there in the privacy of your tongue, laid him down on the bed of your throat. Here, in darkness, you are white tulip. The one you gave him after, wiping his lips with the bottom of your shirt.

Boys appearing from fog like dreams, like fireships, because to escape is to burn. No difference between the dreaming & the burning. Between wildflower & wildfire. No difference between burnt petal & flake of ash. In the home-stretch, the boys around you gesture towards mercy, lifting limbs like oil rigs, faces silent shouts, drilling into themselves.

Watch how you leave the field, though you never leave the field.

Sébastien Luc Butler is a Poe/Faulkner fellow in poetry at the University of Virginia. His writing has been featured in The Michigan Daily, The RC Review, and is forthcoming from Southern Indiana Review. Sebastien is the recipient of the 2021 Hopwood Award for Poetry from the University of Michigan. He hails from Dexter, Michigan and currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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