HomeSouthern VoiceBurning Pine

Burning Pine

by Liz Purvis 


Last winter, the ice storm brought
half our pine tree to the ground,
a section of its limbs sloping
towards the frozen grass. Remember
how it looked, half-bent, needles and cones
crystallized in cold? We were, too, or
felt like it, as heat leaked from the house.
We stumbled through rooms, clutching blankets
as cloaks. We began to see our breath indoors,
saw it puddle against the glass we pressed
our noses to, surprised to see our tree half-felled.
I suppose I should say the, not our
it felt the sun and made the shade
here longer than we’ve been alive,
certainly much longer than the time we rented
in between these white-washed walls.
In one night, half of it was gone.


You went out with an axe and carried
great splintered chunks in through the door—
to build a fire, you said. I told you no. Don’t
do it. No one had ever taught you not to burn
pine indoors: its sap ruins chimneys, traces
smoke along walls. We fought about fire
until our voices hoarsened in the cold.
You dropped your would-be firewood
beside the door, and I saw your fingers shaking
as you broke match after match, trying to light
the stove and warm the teapot. When you brought
two mugs to my cocoon of blankets,
you burrowed uninvited and pressed
frozen toes into my thighs. Our power
came back on—heater turning over loudly;
clocks flashing, waking—
before you made good on your warning
that you’d light it anyway, build a blaze
to heat the house we were just beginning
to call home.


This winter I am packing—moving
furniture and clothes, dividing linens. I feel you
standing very still and watching me take pictures
off the walls, trace where they once were. I leave
one of us, before the storm, your arm around me
in front of that pine tree, your truck
in the corner of the frame, piled high
with all the boxes we thought would help us
merge our lives. Perhaps we were like burning pine—
you, all sulfur-smell and sandpaper; me, the wood
that bleeds and smolders, and falls too easily.
Would it be too heavy-handed to say that
I think perhaps we ruined this house, charred
our walls the way the fire you wanted would have?
I wonder what we would have done
if the heat had stayed off longer, if we would have built
what you had wanted.

Liz Purvis considers herself to be a native of the South at large, having moved all over Georgia, North and South Carolina during childhood, and is a graduate student completing an MFA in Poetry at NC State University. Her work has been published in Colonnades, Decades Review, Outrageous Fortune! and Boston Poetry Magazine. She was a finalist in the 2014 Hollins University Literary Festival and the NCSU Poetry Contest of the same year, and her poem “Eight-Ball” was the Louise Rockwell Honorable Mention for the Anthony Abbott Award.

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