“I will take with me the emptiness of my hands
What you do not have you find everywhere”
             — W. S. Merwin

And the fireflies cried.

Only owl shrieks and wing howls
Now. And one once-upon town — ash.  —

When does a fire peel to reveal skin
Of a running child under its flame-raged arms —

Child legs too short to reach mama or  
Neighbor or any hands to save her?

Stilled hands. Not the town’s famed banyan  
Branches, their hundred twined and dancing arms.  

Not sky not sea not friend not that goddess her
Tutu taught her loved fire, but loved her, more —

Only her blister-scorched skin,  
Only her lost-slipper race,

Blind to a wind blacked 
Sea where she would dive or die.  

Too quiet now for night-birds
Mothers or men — to find.

Not immortal.  
Only one child of the land

And the many large and  
Small bones under ash.


It seemed immortal, the old ones
whispered, older than its wars

Or star of gladness seekers who
Crossed waters to follow midnights

To a far isle — in hollowed out trees
Filled with their chickens their pigs their

Plants and all their many brown hands 
— Landed —     Green island in

The middle of wild seas birthing
Oceans —     birthing mountains  

— Then mirror     to days of calm
To come.

Shine between sunrise,
Rain between gods, love between stars,

And red fish, and gods of trickery,
And gods of blessed breaths.

— Maui — island home for a hundred/
Hundred gardens, valleys, volcanoes, tall

Stones and skies — If immortal, why didn’t?
    — If blessed, why couldn’t — ?

When does fire lie quiet at
Last or at last — its non

Immortal breath burned like sunrise.  
Its gull cry     here      a new day?

Wake, storm birds, wake infant hands    
And wake, old ones — Wake,

Island — to plant what will
Grow from cinder and stinking ash.

Planet : mirroring its
wars of every kind. . . .

What you do not have you find . . . everywhere. . . .

Copyright © 2024 by Margo Berdeshevsky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.