Long after the last rain, the hills were still 
        filled with fire.  Flames flowered along each 

ridge.  Every flare unraveled into a haze 
        of ash.  Coils of smoke rose over the river 

basin.  Rolling in the shifting winds, 
        they climbed toward an indifferent sky 

now merely powdered with those final 
        few showering clouds futilely about to drift 

out of the valley and beyond the horizon. 
        Already, the old growths are dead or dying, 

dried first by the August heat and then 
        in an early autumn drought.  One coal-dark 

canyon brim carries its burn-scar 
        far into an increasing blaze of sunlight, 

rekindled with this late-morning clearing. 
        Foothills fueled by scrub brush, several 

winding lines of fire remain, filing down 
        an incline, sifting through the upper thickets 

like a cluster of summer streams tracking 
        a single slope pillared with silver fir or sugar 

pine and descending toward some distant 
        ravine.  By noon, new blossoms, as if sun-fed, 

begin to appear, flashing their color against 
        those stoked splotches of darker heights, 

charred and smoldering.  Safely away, 
        sipping tea, we watch from under the shade 

of our umbrella awning as this hotel verandah 
        becomes cluttered with the luggage of other 

visitors awaiting the arrival of an afternoon 
        bus.  Although we do not speak, feeling 

any remarks we might make would seem 
        insignificant, we listen to the feverish whispers 

around us—phrases of amazement at all we've 
        witnessed, words of fear or warning as a few 

more plumes waver over the lone roadway 
        to the airport.  Tonight, when red sparks again 

ignite, embroidering that black veil of hillside 
        rising beside us, we will repeat these words. 

[ First appeared in American Literary Review


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