Amelia Earhart Knew Seven Latin Words for Fire by Joe Kapitan

Ignis, the flaming wreckage, bubbling rubber, liquified cloth, her skin charred and blistering, acrid smoke, the tiny thunders of survival’s kicks as she regains consciousness, the lighting-bolts of recent memory as she crawls through twisted metal to foaming surf: off course, out of fuel, jettisoned baggage, radio static, Fred’s panic, immovable wall of blue.

Incaendium, the fire made of other fires, the repulsive stench, the ash she knew as Fred Noonan departed on the wind, his blackened bones remaining, buried in a shallow pit between two palms, femurs pointing north as any navigator would wish.

Flamma, the fire she remembers, a joy combusting her cells whenever she left the ground, the soul-fission that made her body lighter than air, lighter than the collective weight of all the clouds they told her she’d never get the chance to climb.

Ustrina, the cold and weary signal fires at night, seen by no human, noticed only by the broad swath of lonely galaxies smeared across the black, but to no end—these distant stars all tend their own pale, dying fires. No one comes for them either.

The delirium, the loneliness conjures the faint memory of Eleanor and the fire that knots the heart–impes, the exquisite violet burn at the base of the spine, the urge that drew her to orbit and collide with another, to quench it in the only possible way, by feeding it a lover’s skin.

The crushing weight of heat, tragicum, the oven-fire stillness of July in the South Pacific, no motion whatsoever (doldrums, the sailor’s bane), the sea too exhausted to move, the palm-shade shrinks, the heat sucks at Amelia’s cracked lips, stealing the breath from her, no clouds for burnt eyes, no seabirds for starving ears, only the weak spasms of her empty gut, the slightest of ebbs in the crimson sludge of her arteries.

The final fire has no flame, only dust—mulciber, the desiccation of a living being cell by cell, the chemical heat of undoing, the casting-off of earth-bound bone, shedding all useless weight, returning Amelia to her sky.


Joe Kapitan writes fiction and creative nonfiction from a pine grove south of Cleveland, Ohio. Recent work has appeared in DIAGRAM, X-R-A-Y, Pithead Chapel, New World Writing, and Spry. He is the author of a short story collection, CAVES OF THE RUST BELT.

Photograph by Al Kratz