Controlled Burn
LA Poetry Reading 
Second Line

About Collin Kelley



Controlled Burn

It’s as if the apartment is on fire,
smoke clinging low to the ground,
a filthy sweet fog rolling in from
the southwest to dirty up the city.

In the barbecue restaurant, all tang
and wood scented, every eye
is fixed on the news, necks craned,
as anchors with serious voices
express concern, but no answers,           
then cut to war in the Middle East
while tongues go back to licking ribs.

Later, it will be explained as a series
of human errors, 3,000 acres burning,
misunderstanding of wind patterns,
and inevitable oversight panels,
so someone can take the blame.

Driving home, sun filters through
the haze, sets every skyscraper on fire,
a preamble to coming night, and the air
smells like past and premonition.



LA Poetry Reading

You are mid-poem when I arrive,
sissy voice issuing from lowered face,
curtained by ‘70s bangs, your salmon-
colored shirt a size too small and
clinging to narrow frame. Oval nipples,
ribs, belly button a triptych of shadows
I suddenly want to lick.

You’re a one man UN of concern, false-
sympathy for immigrants, the homeless,
acquitting fellow students, their satisfied
nods between sips of mocha frap.
You remind me of someone I will forget.

You, maybe twenty, would be a tentative
lover, embarrassed by your gangly body,
then emboldened by my cries of pleasure,
you would take charge, let whiskers sprout,
become a man, learn to be jaded.

While you read, the LA wind whips
the palm tree against the window
in a rhythm I will use later when I am
alone and abusing myself, becoming
another of those crumbling people
you wish to save, but can only pity.




We are lost in this hotel, roaming
hallways, channel surfing, sleep
refuses to come, even after we have.
Sex is easy.

At this height, the windstorm
is a moan and constant crack,
the buildings of downtown
shrouded in dust and smoke
from fires in the hills. We sit
wide awake, silently watching
each other’s reflection in the window,
piecing together the lost two years.

We could never love each other.
You were too determined for LA life,
and I can only stomach it for four days,
before the east calls me home.
And I’m too old for you anyway.
You’ve got a husband who loves you
in West Hollywood and although he’s
recently become a stranger,
we are no longer familiars.
We speak different English now,
the flyover states an ocean.

Next morning, you’ll go back to Sunset
fast life, waiting for an earthquake to come.
I’ll drive through storm debris, running
late for my flight back to my cheap apartment
and dead end job, writing poems about the wind.



Second Line

Her ass is covered in flames,
licking up and down the curvature
of her cheeks and into nether cracks,
cresting her muffin-top.

Her hair is carnival clown red,
not a wig but dyed to the roots,
so her scalp glows black as she dances
at the edge of the stage.

She could be 40 or 70, in her too-tight
top plunging into crepe and gorge,
but she's got rhythm, she's got music,
she's got fire eating her alive.

When the band starts a New Orleans
funeral march, her body rolls and jiggles,
hips popping to the brass, the club
becomes Vieux Carre anytime pre-K.

Five hundred miles away, no salt air here,
she flickers to life next to our table, fed
on Blind Willie and Taj Mahal, handkerchief
waving like she's second lining.

When the music ends, blink and she's gone
bayou spirit or diaspora, a heat wave ripples
through the overcooled room, enough to
break sweat, body cut loose, firebird from ash.



is an award-winning poet and playwright from Atlanta. His debut novel, Conquering Venus, has just been released by Vanilla Heart Publishing. His poetry collections include After the Poison, Slow to Burn, and Better to Travel, which was nominated for the 2003 Georgia Author of the Year Award, Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Lambda Literary Award. He is a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee and a recipient of the 2007 Georgia Author of the Year/ Taran Memorial Award from the George Writers Association at Kennesaw State University for his work as co-editor of the Java Monkey Speaks Anthology series from Poetry Atlanta Press. His poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in magazines, journals, and anthologies around the world, including the recently released My Diva: 65 Gay Men On the Women Who Inspire Them. His play, The Dark Horse, was the recipient of the 1994 Deep South Festival of Writer's Award for Best Play from the University of Louisiana and the Georgia Theatre Conference Award in 1997. For more, visit