Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Fire Season

As the fire season ramps up and PG and E threatens to turn off the power to thousands of homes to help prevent them, and to keep themselves from liability, I am remembering last year's devastating Camp Fire in Paradise California. Students at Butte College and WordSpring Press put out a beautiful anthology of fire poems. I was pleased to have three poems and one photo included, and got to read there, with many others, some of them fire survivors in a very moving evening. Here are my three poems and the photos. Pelicans in a red sky over the San Francisco Bay.

Fire and Fury

We measure our days in smoke
Fires raging to the north of us
The south of us, the east
Particulate matter in the nose
The mouth
The lungs
The dreams of ash which overwhelm
our dreams of sleep

We measure our days in embers
from a thousand cigarettes,
phlegm from lungs greedily inhaling
Years piled up in mounds
of butts, heaps
of burning tires, rivers on fire

We measure our days in red running heat
pouring down suburban streets
Molten cars, homes, bodies, dreams
disrupted, blistered
The last residents of Pompeii

We measure our days in waves from above
pressing down the sky,
from below threatening the shore
Sunset orange with rhetoric
Polemic spewed by angry gods
Skies of pink fill the sailor’s heart
with visions
of bloated fish bellies floating
Chemical rivers
Plastic oceans

We now measure our days
in credible fear
of sear and flash
the mushroom blast
the last thing you hear
softly falling ash

President Pleasure Visits California*
Says from the steps of Air Force One:

It really is a pleasure
to join you here
in Pleasure -
Look! They named a town after me!
A real pleasure, if Pleasure hadn’t burned to the ground
a shame
so sad

Can you get it built back up by my next trip?
So you won’t be embarrassed by all the mess?
My namesake, Pleasure, yes a real shame
Where’s that governor?
Where’s Jerry?

And Gavin, he’s the new Governor you know
You folks who live here in Pleasure really need
to get going with the rakes
like the Fins, now there are some smart people
No burned down towns on their watch
They know how to manage a forest
Cold place Finland
So not sure how much pleasure
And they have reindeers; did you know that
Like Santa, so that’s got to be fun

Here, let me give you a hug Gavin, spread
some Pleasure around
Feels good to help out
Remember, get out the rakes,
and maybe some snow, you ought to get some snow
Cover it all up; make it look good, you know
in the meantime
Well, it’s been a pleasure
Ha ha, get it?

Oh, and sorry about all the dead people
and what not, not good

Rakes, that’ll work
I like a great climate
Good to have this little chat

*Trump visited the town of Paradise California ground zero of the massive northern California wildfires that killed dozens and left thousands homeless. He got the name of the town wrong twice before being corrected by a member of the press.

Me with the Face of a Dog

Snug in white breathing mask
nose jutting out into the air
the way a dog’s does

Though all I smell is the inside of this dog face
A chemical smell
from invading particularity that began
as trees
or the redwood siding on someone’s house
Maybe a couch
A rug
An old dog kennel from behind the garage
Maybe an old dog
or other carbon-based being
drifting 200 miles
south to attack my nose

This coated face with the nose of
a dog, the snub nosed kind,
a pug
a shih Tzu 
or Pekinese
Someone’s pet now ashes
in the air

Turning the sky to fire
The ocean to blood
The once warm earth
Cold as a grave

Some, they say, were saved
in swimming pools
or ponds
rivers, under the hose
Others tried and failed

their cars still out front
of what’s left of the house
Their cremation
no longer necessary
Ashes to ashes
How we will all wind up

perhaps filtered for purity
through a white mask
covering the large-pored nose
of a god or goddess,
inconsequential deity
with the face of a dog
aloft in a red sky
clouded with dust

while stars are born
in some other part
of the universe

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