Jessica S. Frank

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Burning Birch

We were the novice fire-starters—
city kids with no camping experience
learning wilderness survival tips
from the older counselors,
who told us the secret of the birch trees:
white spotty bark will burn,
no matter what—
wet, cold, frozen.
We nodded and listened
as we sat around the picnic table,
learning how to lead campouts
in a north woods summer.
By mid-June, the campsite
was surrounded by half naked trees,
bark peeled back as high as we could reach.

Summoned back in a staff meeting,
we were told the birch bark trick
was to be used in emergencies only,
and went over, once again,
how to make a fire—
small sticks, a match, building to bigger logs,
like small talk leads to deeper conversations.

We made out on a picnic table
after everyone left,
him standing on the bare ground
hands around me as I sat
on the top, weathered wood underneath me,
clumsy fumbling of a bra clasp,
spotted white breasts
exposed to the elements.
The proper campfire burning out
in the mist of Wisconsin twilight.
Thin flannel shirt peeled back as far as
I’d let him reach.


Jessica S. Frank claims Wisconsin as her home even though she’s currently living in Louisiana for noble poetic reasons. In her spare time, she charms alligators with the promise of cheese curds and dreams of a Culver’s someday being opened in the bayou. 

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