when young was sung the ballad

of a singular campfire

of warmth from which

soul suckled sustenance

as did each other

hip to hip we all there facing inward

one unbroken circle round a fat sufficient burn

came a day I turned away

something caught the corner of my

curious and wand'ring eye

turning more at neck and waist

I saw or thought I did a distant brightness

at a distance such as that

one cannot estimate the fat

and many details are obscured but brightness

carries through

and that was when I turned to you

whispered "Hey! You see that there?

Another fire, do we dare?

Might there be another crowd

surrounding it as we are here

shall we go and see?"

But you replied "that cannot be

here is the campfire

and if is more than shadow trick

it's thieves out there surrounding it

who prolly stole by clever torch

a bit of flame from off the side

like pumpkins offa Yetsko's porch

scheming selfish foolish things

thinking they'll be warmer if

they have it all themselves

but that is not how fire works

it warms us all the same

and if you get too close and try to bath

inside the flame

you become kindling"

I thought to take a step

then stepping found the action

easier than was the thought

though the second into darkness

found a forest floor where foot unseen

would land unsteady on a carpet

never cleared as path

and like that with my eyes ahead

toes groping newborn timidly

I kept a course toward the brightness

shuddering without a flame

appreciating now the warmth

I'd always had since birth

and wondered if my place encircling

would be held as reserved

no, I knew the circle

did not tolerate lost links and would enclose

by and by

surprising even I

I made it to that far off brightness

finding yet another fire

knew it from the snap of crackling wood

also voices different than known

and singing some song new to me

I came upon them so it seemed

at time of grand occasion

found they were a few and left unguarded gaps

so stepped direct into a space

and introduced myself as silence fell

"Brought with ye an offereen?"

one asked but I not understanding

shook my head and smiled

and let them take me for an innocent

without a scheme and that the truth

I've never schemed

they peered at me with eyes from out

of shadows

murmured back and forth

beyond my ear to hear

in words I could not comprehend

then from the opposite was passed

from hand of he who'd asked

a patched up bottle

and it made its way to me

and drank as was encouraged

passed it as was passed by hand

and soon the song began again

now with drink in belly

I found meaning in their words

"We are not thieves of fire

as the blasphemed legend tells it

we departed from the circle

without torch without permission

do they claim we left as pilgrims

so to spread the light

it is not so

we gathered flame from forest

and we lost it several times

and created it anew

as masters of a craft can do

though the process not perfected

and resources hard to find

thus our numbers since have dwindled

most returned to sacred circle

where the warmth is guaranteed

for a pittance tax of creed

those remaining still remember

why we exile self-condemned

and you're welcome to stay with us

if you're willing craft to bend

we are few and share all equal

from the labor to the bottle

you will find a joy in knowing

that your hand controls the flame

you will find the task unending

and the fire much demanding

but you'll come to learn the forest

as you lose your fear of dark

and you'll come to know the secret

of the origins of spark"

more I drank and listened

careful til the singing dwindled

fin'ly and the lyrics turned to babble

with the secrets promised unrevealed

until a moment realized

when the rest to sleep surrendered

while the fire slowly dwindled

with no one but I to tend

what was left of logs now smoldered

nearly all had passed to ashes

and I thought to make an effort

but I thought I heard a whisper

and I wondered if these gypsies

were indulging their own wit

and I felt a strange aloofness

hearing gasps of indignation

as I turned toward the darkness

and declared "t' hell with it"

maybe it was rude to do so

after all they'd passed the bottle

after all I'd joined their circle

without any invitation

but no vacant space- I felt- was owned

and for the bottle I'd not asked

thus burden of their fire

I resented to be tasked

half expecting them to protest

or dispense prophecies dire

still I stepped into the dark

feet by now blind step familiar

with the traps and dips of forest floor

I confidently figured

if my eyes were open

and my head on steady swivel

either 'nother distant spark I'd spy

or darkness I'd adjust to

and in truth at first was frantic

as I scanned and squinted desperate

and the darkness became blackness

til I knew only for certain

of the dust below my feet

which had changed from blades before

to a sandy rocky texture

where no roots might set to growing

and no fire could sustain

I was out beyond the timber

and could spin complete in circle

without noting any light

and could hear nothing but breathing

mine alone against the evening

growing seasoned to the shiver

wrapped in woolen pitch of night