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Comparable miracles

By Kevin McIlvoy

You asked me what I thought Sam Sierra thought

that day I put him out – fifty years ago today.

Well, first, you’ve got to know I wanted no one to know –

and it was Sam who has told it and does still.

Mill laborers saved each other’s asses over

and over through the years and didn’t tell – why should we?

Hell, the real mystery is why Sam won’t leave that day

go and give me some peace from making me his hero.

What’s the deal that he thinks his saved life is a big deal?

He’ll call me this afternoon and same as always

I’ll say, Could we please talk about something else, Sam? Please?

And he will – he will – but not really – he’ll tell me

about the anniversaries of his comparable miracles –

finding his lost car in the Walmart lot, or surviving an audit, or his

oldest returning from the newest war, his youngest from cancer –

wonders in which I had no part, except that Sam feels I do

because he wouldn’t have lived to be saved again and again

if I hadn’t thrown my jacket over the fire on him

made by the acetylene sparks arcing over his

shoulder and springing into flames small at first

and, just that fast, not – and big as fists, big as

pennants, big as whipping flags waved by ghosts.

At full sprint, I struck him off his stool, stuck

myself to him, his welding mask and mine still on,

and we rolled and spun and rolled for hours upon hours –

I thought he thought so too – though the time was

all in all about twelve seconds that we spent on

the ground until we sputtered out, smoked, rocked hard,

realized we had flung our heads off – well, I felt

he felt that also when we saw one ember made

of two men reflected in their – our – masks so far

away from us. Sam looked like me, I mean he looked

like he should let go, should stand up, should retrieve his

mask and torch, and check and clean them. Thanks, B, he said.

I said, Thanks, since for twelve seconds we were the same

man, the very same. Went to the locker room where we told our

foreman we were completely out and pretty much all right, agreed

to have the infirmary nurse certify us as cold ash, trashed

our damaged shoes, clothes, redressed, rejoined our crew, finished

our shift. Shit happens – and how. Every day we set ourselves

on fire. Some days we’re not put out and other days we are.

You asked me to tell you what I should have let Sam Sierra

tell. I told – and I’m ashamed of myself now.


Kevin McIlvoy’s poems appear in Consequence, Willow Springs, Olney, Barzakh, River Heron Review, LEON, and other magazines. His novel One Kind Favor (2021, WTAW Press) is his eighth published book.

He has published five novels, A Waltz, The Fifth Station, Little Peg, Hyssop, At the Gate of All Wonder, and a short story collection, The Complete History of New Mexico.

His short fiction has appeared in Harper’s, Southern Review, Ploughshares, Missouri Review, and other literary magazines. A collection of his prose poems and short-short stories, 57 Octaves Below Middle C, has been published by Four Way Books.

For twenty-seven years he was fiction editor and editor-in-chief of the national literary magazine, Puerto del Sol. He taught in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program in Creative Writing from 1987 to 2019; he taught as a Regents Professor of Creative Writing in the New Mexico State University MFA Program from 1981 to 2008.


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