This Ash - a poem

I wrote "this ash" as I watched ash fall over our valley, leaving the last remnants of what the McKinney Fire had destroyed forty miles to the south. The first fire season that I lived in Oregon (6 years ago) I wiped ash off of my truck and brushed it off my horses without much thinking about what it actually was. Now when ash blankets our farm, where it may have come from is all I can think about.



THIS ASH


Smoke climbs the horizon along our south pasture,

a pallet of browns and grays driven by a straight-line wind until

it tumbles over the mountain range and spills across the thirsty valley

like a carefree

child down a hill.


Forty miles from here,

rural homes and small towns are

burning up and floating away

in silence.


(I must confess

to you that

calling it silent

is a lie -

wildfire is preposterously

loud, a

gulping, snarling, ravenous beast but

it would seem the question we ask about

falling trees and the availability of a listening ear applies

to flaming trees and burning

houses and the interest of

a newsman’s

camera.)


But ashfall is quiet, no

matter how many

ears are available to collect the grief

that might screech and howl from these tiny pieces

if only they could deliver a message from

whom they once belonged.


Old photographs and stacks

of mail, painted walls and

foot-worn porches with creaking stairs, and

dolls and toy trains and pen marks

on door frames

and a truck with

the keys in the ignition and

the leather collar of a faithful

dog in the passenger seat

and the blue plaid shirt and a cane of an old man who could not outrace the flames.

Now they are all floating and falling and flying and falling again,

hot,

soft

snow

adrift

in a copper sky,

painting cars and hair and rooftops belonging to strangers,

the rumps of cattle and

the taut skin of ripening tomatoes and

the inside of lungs, having ridden in

on a breath. Maybe they’ll slip

through permeable barriers

and travel blood streams

through chambers of hearts and

beneath the wrinkles of

pulsing brains and calloused fingerprints

and

perhaps a few lucky ones

aren’t done yet, but are expelled instead

for a second chance

on an exhale or

a word or

a shout or

transferred with

a kiss

and I wonder if this ash,

these gray flecks of

what was and

what could’ve been

cling

to existence until

there’s nowhere to go but

a dustpan or a rag or a vacuum bag,

swept from places still claimed by the living,

and there, perhaps, these tiny ghosts

descend for the last time,

weak and battered and

with

a

sigh,

go


cold.




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