Kim Stafford: “Ghost Forest”

Ghost Forest

Crisis of the flame—
spit and crackle and crash—
with a roar the fire flume
climbs the ravine against
laws of gravity and growth
(the sun kindled green from far) for
fire brought here by lightning strike
combustion, fury final for the old
trees, young grass blond by drought’s
climate change intensity not by decades
but by seconds made manifest, one breath
transformation from green tower to ghost-
bone trunk dressed in smoke, taking one step
to swing from the vertical to the crisscross forest
labyrinth, wood coal spectres scattered as the truck
explodes, the men run frantic with exiled
deer and bear, grouse and mouse in a blur
toward what used to be: green tree
and clear rivulet, leaf, butterfly, rain.

—Kim Stafford

“Ghost Forest,” copyright © 2015 Kim Stafford. Used by permission of the author.

Eileen Owen: “Burn”

Burn

A man walks his poodle
on an icy road, past
last summer’s burn, charred
evergreens scattered
like pickup sticks. Rust-colored
pine needles cling to branches
already dead.

The dog noses the specter
that was his playground,
the skins of trees peeling,
cinders on the dirty snow.

It still burns below.
Collapsed root balls shroud
embers waiting for melt,
oxygen, and wind.

The poodle’s pink tongue droops
over ignorant lips,
the man picks him up, pulls him close,
turns toward home
putting the charcoaled sketch
behind them. Below,
it still burns.

–Eileen Owen

Eileen “Sam” Owen lives in the Methow Valley; her husband is a volunteer firefighter.

Jared Leising: “Cleaning the Pool”

Cleaning the Pool

My son woke with
bites about his body—

small scarlet circles

we discover before
the morning swim

he plans to take

with his brother.
I make note to wash

his bedding, thinking

the thing that bit him
slept with him. As we

walk to the small pool

a man is cleaning it.
He tells us to wait

an extra half hour

before they splash
in the chemically blue

water below a condo

we’d rented in Manson.
Not to digest waffles;

their rectangular pool

had filled w/ash overnight
as the First Creek Fire

burned on the other side

of Lake Chelan.
The man uses a long net

to fish out Dalmation flecks

sprinkled across the surface.
Then he sprays green chairs

and tables, putting out whatever

is on them. While waiting to swim,
I try to find this fire that had been

watching us with one eye open

as we slept. Overhead, a helicopter
dangling a wet package coasts toward

the curtain of rosy smoke I can feel

in my throat. I follow it. But only
after spending the day submerged

and letting the simmer of a sun set

do I finally witness the flames
creeping down the bare ridge

like a red spider in the dark.

—Jared Leising

Used by permission of the author. Read more about Jared Leising.

Tod Marshall: “That Ongoing Work”

That Ongoing Work

Most of us know only smoke:  dirty gauze, grey
weight on each cough of an hour.  Red eye
of the sun lingering, that slow arson
plotting with lightning, both hiding in clouds,
and worse:  most of us have occasionally cursed
the haze, rubbed watery eyes, mumbling my day,
my breath, my unburnt minutes.  We’re like that.  Try,
instead, to feel real heat, to hold hands open

and near hot embers, blue propane of a grill;
to see meat slowly sear, grease sizzle
into cinder. It’s okay if you fail.
Just try.  And try, too, beneath blue skies when wind
clears smoke away, try to recall the blackened land,
and maybe try becomes a small act to heal the abundant ash, the pain.

—Tod Marshall

“That Ongoing Work” by Tod Marshall. Used by permission of the author. Read more of Tod Marshall’s work at todmarshall.com

Pacific NW Poets Respond to the Fires

Travel writer/photographer Amanda Castleman captured this view of the Alder Lake Fire.
Travel writer/photographer Amanda Castleman captured this view of the Alder Lake Fire.

I forget where I’ve said it out aloud, so forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but here’s what I’m up to: posting a poem every other day until fire season ends. We’ve all been affected by the fires this year, some in life-altering, heartbreaking ways, and others in the form of small inconveniences, changed plans.

Today on KUOW, we aired a couple of fire-related poems by firefighter-turned poet Kevin Goodan and poet/novelist/photographer Nance Van Winckel. I hope you’ll give it a listen. (Big thanks to Allen Braden for introducing me to Kevin Goodan’s work.)

See more of Amanda Castleman’s gorgeous work here.

Susan Rich: “Childhood Study: Fires Late August”

Childhood Study: Fires Late August

Awake in the middle of the night,
we listen to the grass crackle, to the new world of evacuate.

Like monkeys we screech as the trees go pop—

yellow candelabras, we see and then not.
Now danger damages our capillaries

for the first time, the ladder trucks and sirens

seem like small toys compared with
the neighbor’s fire-fangled trees.

What lit-up between us that summer—

three sisters clustered like barn cats— I can’t say
except for a time camaraderie

warmed the soles of our feet, our robes

remaining intact just one season—
before it all burned away.

—Susan Rich

“Childhood Study: Fires Late August,” by Susan Rich, from Cloud Pharmacy. Used by permission of the author.

“The Tillamook Burn” by William Stafford

I’ve just come back from an overnight trip to Mineral School, where I had the good fortune to meet and read with mountain guide and writer/editor Charlotte Austin. Before I headed home, I stopped by the informal information center across from the Alder Lake Fire, which has been burning since a lightning strike on July 26 — a nano-second compared to the Tillamook Burn, which flared every six years in Oregon for several decades (yes, you read that right). Here’s what William Stafford had to say about that:

The Tillamook Burn

These mountains have heard God;
they burned for weeks. He spoke
in a tongue of flame from sawmill trash
and you can read His word down to the rock.

In milky rivers the steelhead
butt upstream to spawn
and find a world with depth again,
starting from stillness and water across gray stone.

Inland along the canyons
all night weather smokes
past the deer and the widow-makers–
trees too dead to fall till again He speaks.

Mowing the criss-cross trees and the listening peaks.

—William Stafford

“Tillamook Burn,” by William Stafford, copyright © Kim Stafford. Used by permission of Kim Stafford.

Read more and see pictures of the Tillamook Burn.

“Endless Summer” by Kelli Russell Agodon

Endless Summer

We can forgive lightning,
a god of fire reaching a pale arm

into the trees, searching for something
dropped in a carpet of green.

It’s not so easy to forgive the careless
smoker flicking his cigarette behind him,

the woman burning love notes
near her tent. Somehow we want them

to know better, to crush a cigarette
until it falls apart, read the signs–

Banned: fireworks, campfires, propane
stoves, floating lanterns. At night,

when the woods glow orange,
the deer believe they can be saved

by wading into the river to let fire burn
past them. But everything boils

as firefighters wander forests. There is
never enough to drink, never enough talk

about leaving and this summer stretches on
like birdsong, a wildfire cry–

dry, dry, dry. We’ve already lost three.
We wonder what fall will bring, if rain

will appear, if winter snow will cover
the branches where flame once did.

—Kelli Russell Agodon

“Endless Summer,” by Kelli Russell Agodon. Used by permission of the author. Read more of Kelli Russell Agodon’s work at agodon.com