Saturday, January 21, 2017

Inauguration Day

            For John Berger

Fire is spreading down the hill, across the floor of the pine woods. It advances like a carnivore masticating, no surcease. They walk through the smoke with their pots and jugs and pails, over ground turned to ash. They seek out the gouts of flame, pour the water in a boil of gray steam and burnt parchment tatters of the dead.
They go back to the stream for more. Their skin is painted with charcoal and ash. They soak their feet in the cold flow, the soles blistered, the heat still in them. The water is the color of bloodless flesh.

The flames are laddering up the bark of the trees. They scrape them away with sticks. Their thin sandals press into the feathery ash, the floor of the world gone rotten. On the ridgeline, a pine tree erupts all at once, a single great torch.
Some trees have already died, they can tell. Steady root burn, inexorable consumption. They take the pots back, fill them from the silted stream, lie down in it, the current brushing fingers through their hair. The sky is rotten milk.

Yesterday the plane flew over, dropped something. Today, the fire. Some of them think, it’s our fault, we didn’t go to look. Some think, fuck you fuck you fuck you.
Others are in grief like a baby bird dying, fallen from the nest into their chests, flapping unformed wings.

The smoke doesn’t let the sky change. The light leaves suddenly at dusk. In the dark they go back to camp, feeling with their burnt feet the familiar paths, through willow thicket and meadow of herbs, wild onion, trillium, lovage, water leaf. The bird calls are there, but muted, diminished.
There is the small fire at the heart of the camp, in a grove of firs. They must keep it burning, though it feels wrong, paradoxical. Fires of different characters.
They eat and look into the flames, custom. Images in the decaying coals. Stories. Someone describes it. Someone looks out into the dark, full of living trees.
A warm moist wind comes off the meadows. The mating frogs call to each other. Another tree explodes in ravenous light.
No starlight nor moon. They lift their pots where they have set them on the black earth. The woods on the hill are gutshot with flames, the heat of the sun fallen to earth.

Last night I dreamed a crow landed on my hand and looked into my eyes. I still feel its claws.

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