As it gets colder in the northern hemisphere, though we are over the hump of winter solstice, I thought I’d share a little figurative fire to brighten your holiday. I first drafted this poem from field notes written as an exercise at the nature writers’ conference I attended at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in October 2016. Here are some excerpts.
Happy New Year. And Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service.
by C. L. Tangenberg
Giddy beige feathers of tall, unnamed fronds perched at a tilt, sprout their crowns in fanned-out spikes, forging two beings into one: fire and ashy aftermath. Two heads' lengths above these frozen flames, the color starts. Green, rounded leaves of chartreuse underbellies and grey- green backs, or faces—I can't tell which—huddle in discarded half-arches, craft of the stone mason who made too many, just in case. A half-hearted bow only at their very tops, partly praising a fractional work. On ground farther back, a grander stage presents the proud, living burns of orange-tipped yellow dancers. Some like to sway more than others, some feel the fueling wind. A tree not yet bronzed stands apart, flushed with a green, pre-fire readiness, and here, at the edge of its leaf clusters, starts to catch. Beside, with lifeless pallor, bored out, burnt out, by burning beetle fever, the fire of hunger— too-soon wintered, emaciated, desolate—ash trees jealously watch their flaming neighbors. And foraging over all heads, some unseen spirit slurps up and bloats full with grey smoke from all this combustion below, from above, with the yellow- white smoke of sunlight. The wind roars like a terrible conflagration, and the grey, not white, smoke is winning. Stone-piles at my feet see up to the short spray of grasses, hints of feathers on higher fliers, and my shadow. Blown quiet, I walk most unhurried, back, into no fire.