The World is Burning


Am glad to be home for a few days–to rest and to reflect (and mow the lawn, mull on some way to get rid of the den of skunks down the road–Robert Lowell is no help).  Elizabeth Bishop, a favorite poet, titled one of her books Questions of Travel.  In the title poem, she wrestles with the call to adventure; she writes, “Is it lack of imagination that makes us come / to imagined places, not just stay at home?”  Those lines are at the end of a long meditation on the pluses and minuses of hitting the road; I suppose for those of us who have “lost cities, lovely ones,” the call of the road might be less compelling. As someone who moved many, many times as a child and for whom a favorite day now might be comprised of sitting in the same chair sipping coffee (my little dog draped over my legs), travel and its questions can be a challenge.

All of which is to say, I feel the effect of these many journeys throughout our state, but it isn’t an exhaustion so much as a shift, a “tipping / of an  object toward light,” and that light is changing me bit by bit–and in a good way, I hope.  I find myself talking to strangers and shouting fun encouragement at raucous readings, simply smiling more.  For this, I’m thankful to many kind people–and to poetry.  Perhaps sometime soon I will even dance.


William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men [and women] die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”  I believe those lines.  As in, I really believe those lines.  Our world is figuratively on fire, burning with distrust, anger, and hatred, and literally on fire; continued climate change is wreaking havoc in a variety of ways, most acutely (and locally) in the form of the deadly fires of last summer.  A few months ago, Governor Inslee gave me a poem and permission to share it with the world.  It’s pretty cool to live in a state where the governor writes and paints, and I’ll be reaching out to other poets laureate around the country to see what arts their respective governors might practice.  If, as Percy Bysshe Shelley argues, poets are important as the “unacknowledged legislators” of the world, then it might also be important to look at the poems of our acknowledged legislators, too.

Anyhow, here’s the poem, and let’s hope that it’s more of an elegy to last year’s conflagrations than augur of more flames to come.

Okanogan Complex

By Jay Inslee, Washington State Governor


A blaze to light a reddish sky it came

To char a forest green of native fame.


In shards, clouds sent bolts of lightning

To tops, to trunks, to sparks most frightening.


A hungry thing it chewed, it clawed, it licked

The pine and sage and grass.  All were picked


To feed a table so ignorantly set

By clueless humans who have not gotten it yet,


And so we eat this acrid fruit of smoky reliance

On myth, excuse, and denial, instead of science


And curse the walls of hellish heat, but still

Fritter our time in baseless fraud and do nil


But slap empty foreheads.  It’s right, not rude

To raise the hell we need for a new attitude.

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