Firestarter

Mr. Springer, who resides
at the dingy bungalow
on Constance Court
that we can see from the wooden deck
of our wooden house,
and who last Saturday started the fire
that burned a thousand acres of grass
due south along the lake —

that Mr. Springer,
who the neighbors,
shortly after, bilious,
suggested should go to prison
for the rest of his too-long life,
was just connecting
an electric fence.

Sparks flew.
They do
at high school dances and in fields
and sometimes catch fire
and run for all our panic water.

But now, across the road,
through the window of his living room,
I watch him watching television,
his generator in the driveway,
and around the place, the black grass
spread the way it did / not away
the way it did,
but sharp-tongued prairie now
licking up,
darkly, acidly
against the flickering wall
of his flickering house.

Returning After Evacuating From a Wildfire, June 2012

The clothes go back in the closet
and the cats come home
and they speak to each other,
each to the other.

The plume still rises
on the western edge
in the one hundred and four degree heat,
and the firefighters on the line,
they speak to each other
in their shorthand speech.

The thank-you signs are out
and the kids approach
with their piggy banks.
On the news at nine we take the toll
and speak to each other, each to each.

But there’s one thing
that doesn’t go away, one thing
that doesn’t curl in the heat:
when the sun wasn’t yet
a red ball in the smoke,
when we got the call
and we spoke to each other,
you and me, and took the photograph
and not the clock
and took the brooch
and not your letters in a box
tied sometime in our third
(or was it the fourth?) year
when we were younger, proud,
full of piss and vinegar:
pride enough to slay
a world of dragons,
nest or night awake,
but not this.

The smoke rose, the letters lay
like wounded partisans
whispering to each other.
Each to the other.

Valedictory

They say the Fern Lake fire is still burning
up around Estes Park.
It started in October in dry brush, open flame,
and then the snows of the eastern Rockies came,
but it still burns on below, Inuk fire,
too remote for hotshot crews,
and anyway it is April now —
who fights fires in early spring?

The last front dropped fourteen inches in the garden
around the new birdbath,
but memory being what it is,
full of non sequiturs
and awkward prompts that pull thoughts
where they wouldn’t choose to go,
I can’t see the birdbath, its blue supplicant bowl
piled up like a wedding cake with snow
and not see Berkeley evenings.

There was a lime tree in the back
wasn’t there?
on Dwight Way or Parker Street,
tart-green on the tongue, bittersweet —
and spaghetti dinners, a honey-skinned guitar.

But here in the foothills,
far below Fern Lake,
almost three decades gone,
I’ll wrap the snow in my arms
where it has piled up on the birdbath,
where the snow has bent
the branches of the sour cherry,
bring it melting to the kitchen,
say
so it came,
and so we came and went.