Dispatch from the West

Image: Burning by Ami Prasad

It’s fire time again.
So far so good.
Fog in the mornings
Erases the trees.
Shafts of sunlight
Break up the mist,
All of it, the same.
All of it, waiting.
Nothing for my diary.
Just records broken
Far to the north—
A heat dome like a dome
Of silence, but no one’s
Getting smart.
I admit it, I’m terrified,
Terrified of the hungry air
Taking back the wet slugs.
Earth and sky making
God-love as my house collapses.
I stare out the window, a black cat
Likes my meadow, sits
On the sidelines. Watches
The quail tilt their nervous hats,
Whirl to the bosky creek.
Nothing’s forgiven. Nothing’s forgotten.
Not last winter’s rain, too soft
To snuff the smoldering roots.
Not the roll cloud’s belly,
Pricking snags into the fire.
For now, let’s praise
The cold Pacific.
Still cold. Oh Lord, still cold.
It lays its mist hand on me.
Says Quiet. Quiet!
Stop it. Be still.

About the Poem

Yes, it’s fire season again in California, with its attendant anxiety and suspense. To the north, of course, fires, unbreathable air, record temperatures. I’m hunkered down in the Monterey Bay, safe in the marine layer, knowing in September, as the inland valleys cool, the morning fog will disappear. Worse, if the Pacific warms too much, the mist will disappear for good. In the meantime, I’m thankful for the ocean, its deep trenches, still cold, still dark, and unexplored.

About the Author

Dion O’Reilly has spent most of her life on a small farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Her debut book, Ghost Dogs (Terrapin Books 2020) has been shortlisted for a number of prizes, including the Catamaran Poetry Prize and The Eric Hoffer Award. Her work appears in journals such as the American Journal of Poetry, Cincinnati Review, Narrative, The New Ohio Review, The Massachusetts Review, and New Letters.

She is a member of The Hive Poetry Collective, which produces podcasts, radio shows, and events. These days, she leads ongoing workshops with small groups of poets from all over the United States and Canada.

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