What do you save by Karen Paul Holmes

What do you save

when a wildfire swarms toward your home?
Ten-thousand acres last week, double today. The Nantahala Forest
combusts like hay: drought plus rough terrain. Bless firefighters
who’ve come Oregon-far to help the Blue Ridge. Bless everyone
praying for rain, damning
the arsonist. These mountains should flame
with autumn; instead, falling leaves become torches,
wind-carried, hell-bent.

Not morning fog, this scrim over my view, but smoke
the sun can’t burn off. Eyes itch, I taste acrid hickory,
won’t let the dogs play outside. Farmers fear for cattle—
the thick smolder, chemicals sprayed to stop it. What about lungs
of ducks here for winter refuge on Lake Chatuge?
And osprey, fox, bear, deer…

Eight miles away, police at my friend’s door: Evacuate. She packs
her sister’s sculpture, mother’s portrait, binders of genealogy notes.
I could grab documents but not
Reverend Cobb’s table cut from a hundred-year oak,
nor the maple desk made by a local man.
The mattress with its imprint of the body I loved.

There’s an odd beauty I don’t want to like,
the smell of campfire, the silver-ringed sun, striated
purple sunsets. I’m in a Turner painting, everything blurred,
obscured under goose down.
Last night the moon glowed red.

by Karen Paul Holmes, from No Such Thing As Distance (Terrapin Books, 2018)

Karen on Facebook

Editor’s note: Careful line breaks emphasize the imagery in this poem and heighten the emotional dismay of the speaker. The enjambment throws the few single line sentences (beginning, middle, and end) into sharp relief, highlighting heartbreak.

One thought on “What do you save by Karen Paul Holmes

  1. Powerful imagery. I feel it. Especially gut wrenching for me as I was in Oregon this summer when fires swept in. Though on the coast, we experienced the scrim of smoke, the red moon. We even planned for if we had to leave suddenly.
    Love this:
    “…These mountains should flame
    with autumn; instead, falling leaves become torches,
    wind-carried, hell-bent.”
    Thank you. xoA

    Like

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