Landscape with Arson

Off to visit the Sespe, which is still badly scared from the epic Day Fire of four years back…which brings to mind a memorable new poem from Jennifer Grotz at the New England Review, via Poetry Daily:

Landscape with Arson

Have you ever watched a cigarette released from a driver's fingers
swim through the night air and disintegrate in tiny embers?
Invisible by day, fire's little shards, its quiet dissemination.

That's how, one hot afternoon, no one noticed when
something desperate made the boy devise the strategy
to siphon gas from the motorcycle with a discarded straw,

spitting mouthfuls into a fast food cup until there was enough
to set the apartment complex on fire.
It happened in a neighborhood at the edge of town

where the wind sifted a constant precipitation of dust
like desiccated snow and the newly-poured streets
looked like frosting spread across the desert field.

Ducks had just found the man-made pond.
At dusk, they waddled ashore
to explore the construction site like the boy.

He started with the door. Stood mesmerized
as the fire took on new colors. He fed it litter
collected from the field. It hissed and turned green,

it splintered pink, it bloomed aureoles of blue.
But there was hardly time to admire it before
remorse overtook him and he fled.

Before the howl of sirens. He was
gone before—he started with the door—whatever
he wanted to let out.

Something can stop being true in the time it takes
a cigarette to burn to its filter. It was your crime
but it's me who goes back to the scene. Now it's only me

who wants to burn something for you, but there's nothing left—how
do you set fire to the past? Only an impulse to shake free—like cellophane
peeled from a pack—something that clings.

Sometimes I conjure a fire for you in my mind,
the gnats swarming furiously above the water, up and down,
can you see it? How they mimic flame, hovering

at the pond's edge. Lately I find myself there all the time.

Jennifer Grotz

New England Review
Volume 30, Number 1 / 2009

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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