FIRE OVER WOOD
If I don’t burn, where will the light come from?
for Danelia, for Kjersten, for Cheryl
It takes a long time for the fire to catch.
Then the entire stove is enflamed.
Every piece of wood,
alongside the first log, will burn.
Afterwards, there will be coals
to ignite another tender log, and so it goes.
The steadiness of the eternal flame
to stay alight, if sheltered, also in the rain.
I put the women up on the hill
and then the thunder came,
lightning, wind and, finally, heavy rain.
I kept the fire going, prayer, tobacco,
scrupulous attention. If the flame extinguished,
I couldn’t guarantee their safety, couldn’t swear
their own fires wouldn’t die down to low
in the ordeal of meeting the great Light
for which they prepared for months.
One buried the wounded heart of a warrior.
One, unexpectedly, prepared to don white moccasins
from an ancestor she’d never known.
Another learned the weather, learned wind and water
in the old ways. Blood rises hot in us from the earth.
Years earlier, my companion gathered lightning struck bark
and offered it as a gift that turned out to be a curse.
So we had to make amends. I asked, humbly,
if I could help the herb woman build the fire.
After awhile, she gave the task over to me.
I patiently gathered kindling from the dry earth
and fed the fire, twig by twig
until it caught enough for the branches
and then the logs. She offered tobacco then, and sang.
Afterwards, she agreed I might call rain to the land
as I had been given such instructions in a dream.
The dry thunder and dry lightning were far away.
When I returned to the hogan, my old gray silk blouse
was wet and plastered against me like another skin.
We said nothing. When we were leaving,
she kissed me between the eyebrows,
as the Tibetans, her language cousins, do
as a blessing or a transmission.
That’s what we did together:
we made a fire, and I called rain, and we left.
Plant and nurture more trees than you cut down
so when you leave, there will be forests again.
Burn hot and steady and long
so the other logs will catch in your presence
and hold the fire for the next generations.
I kept the fire down below,
while they each praised the land above
in circles of trees. Eucalyptus bark
fed the flames. The logs were from the pine
that had fallen and the dead branches were
of an old elm that had been pierced in loops and swirls
by a family of woodpeckers who’d come to the land
when I had, tattooing the tree for over thirty years.
Last night, the rain was torrential.
The roof opened, as I knew it would,
around the trunk of the jacaranda as
we had built the house around it.
We would not cut it down,
would not even trim the tender green twig
extending its green leaves over my altar table.
We have to live with whatever we wish to save.
The women on the hill were with the rain
as I was with the fire that stormy night.
Be with what you love.
Be immoderate. Avoid caution. Burn steady
so you pass on the heart’s flame.
Yet be vigilant, do not burn the forest down.