When an arsonist

haunted our street

my lip trembled

with helplessness.

The first fire, a rosemary bush

outside the house 

of an outspoken neighbor

big white beard and pot-bellied, 

picture a grizzled Santa Claus.

The first time we spoke

he told me about 

the ex-son-in-law he almost murdered,

beating him 

and driving his car until the tire 

was an inch from his head,

before his daughter talked him down.

He didn’t tell this story by way of threat

but as a lesson about loyalty.

He, the good father,

me, who would understand 

if I had a daughter.

My son, not yet three, 

recognized this change in me 

after the second fire.

He started crying when I stared off, 



how close the sage bush was

to the tree

that’s branches scraped the side of our house.

The third fire, a sage bush. 

The homeowner said it must’ve been 

the American flag he flew.

That offends some people, you know.

The flag didn’t catch fire, only the bush

before a neighbor spotted it

I didn’t sleep.

Like those newborn days

when my son cried all the time.

Or when he didn’t cry and

I woke in a terror, and fled crib-side

to put a hand to his chest.

I felt the rise and fall 

to know he was breathing.

I didn’t sleep.

I peered through windows. 

Because I heard noises

or because I didn’t.

The fourth fire caught a series of bushes 


two doors down.

Flashing red and white lit

our bedroom wall,

woke my son to peer through blinds, too.

So I walked the street, 

silent and still,

kitchen fire extinguisher in hand.

Equal parts to put out any blaze I came upon

and to demonstrate 

to anyone watching through windows

I was not the arsonist.


I don’t expect I’ll have a daughter,

but I understand.

In the half-baked fantasy

of catching a kid playing 

with a lighter fluid and matches

at another shrubbery.

I imagine spraying ammonium phosphate to blind him

bludgeoning him 

with the aluminum outside 

until the red paint chips

into the arsonist’s blood.

I don’t have a daughter,

but I understand

what it is to burn.


I had visions of fireworks,

the romance of thigh on thigh,

sweet skin sticky with July humidity.

Seated in the back of a pickup truck

staring at a sky


then dark again.

Close my eyes. It’s darker

and I might see anything. 

But now we play a game

of fireworks or gunshots,

though neither of us know the 

rhythm, echo, or timbre to listen for

quite right.

But we are 

intertwined at least.

Turn the television louder,

watch its light flicker

on her face

as her breath settles

as my eyelids grow heavy again.

No further explosions,

no sirens.


But through the smudged window

the sky is dark

and anything might happen.


Porn performers learn

never to forget

the camera.

Mindful of light and shadows

And that intimacies like hair 

falling to the wrong side

can obscure

their expression.

And I think back to sitting on the floor

college days

turning into the lens

with an idiot grin, double thumbs up,

subtle flex of my biceps.

Stacy the photographer’s sigh.

I forgot you always pose for pictures.

I don’t know if she took the photo

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.

I want to hold you

the way a photograph 

holds a moment


Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and son. He is the author of three full-length short story collections and his debut novel, My Grandfather’s an Immigrant and So is Yours came out from Cowboy Jamboree Press in 2021. Chin won the 2017-2018 Jean Leiby Chapbook Award from The Florida Review and Bayou Magazine’s 2014 James Knudsen Prize for Fiction. Find him online atmiketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s