Rings of Fire, 2016

        Honolulu, Hawaii

We host a small family party to celebrate
my daughter’s second birthday. This year
is the hottest in history, breaking the record
set when she was born. Still, I grill meat
over charcoal and watch smoke crawl
through air like the spirits of sacrificial
animals. Still, I crave a cigarette, even after
quitting five years ago, even after my clothes
no longer smell like my grandpa’s tobacco
breath (his oxygen tank still scratches the tiled
floor of memory and denial). My dad joins me
outside and says, “Son, when I die, scatter
my ashes to the ocean, far from this heat.”
Inside, my mom is cooking rice and steaming
vegetables. They’ve traveled from California,
where millions of trees have become tinder
after years of drought, fueling catastrophe.
When my daughter’s body first hosted fever,
the doctor said, “It’s a sign she’s fighting
infection.” Volcanoes erupt along fault lines
and disrupt flight patterns; massive flames
force thousands to evacuate tar sands
oil country. When we can’t control fire,
we name it “wild” and pray to God for rain;
when we can’t control God, we name it “war”
and pray to votives for peace. “If her fever
doesn’t break,” the doctor said, “take her
to emergency.” Violence rises with the temper-
ature, which knows no borders; air strikes
detonate hospitals in countries whose names
are burnt fossils: Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan,
South Sudan, Iraq . . . “When she crowned,”
my wife said, “it felt like rings of fire.”
Garment factories in Bangladesh char and
collapse; refugees self-immolate at a detention
center on Nauru; forests across Indonesia
are razed for palm oil plantations, their plumes,
like the ashen ghosts of birds, flock to our distant
rib cages. When my daughter can’t breathe,
we give her an asthma inhaler. But tonight,
we sing happy birthday and blow out
the candles together. The smoke trembles,
as if we all exhaled the same, flammable wish.



Copyright © 2017 Craig Santos Perez. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2017.