there are these old fires

i.         Powell’s Bookstore Coffee Shop, Portland

it’s all lit up with volcanoes
Chris says of Oregon
where I write of new fires
burning old animals
but there are these old fires
I don’t heed—

the xylophone of volcanoes
that is the Cascade Range

I am lusty for Mt Hood
but it wasn’t always so composed
maybe isn’t now

I drink my coffee & message Chris
a guy behind me asks
what would happen
if I blow his head off
he’s peering into a screen
& two men in baseball caps
are watching a movie too loud
for a bookstore coffee shop
so says the barista charged
with delivering the reprimand & then
there’s the dance of the firemaker
no flowermaker down the table
he dances through his hands
before he folds napkins conjuring flowers

when magma comes to the surface
it’s called lava

transformation through visibility

& maybe it’s just that the old fires are burning
& we don’t see what we are feeling
maybe it’s just the fires are burning
my maracas rattle of thoracic worry
or when my thorax feels carved out, like a gourd

or like a field that was a forest—
charred, treeless, but renewed
in geologic time

I want to throw so much into this poem
its deep caldera

the pumiced highways through mountain passes
to small towns with workcamps
or a thrift store where a teenager
wears a wig, unsteady eyeliner, an urgent
hello at the cash register

I triage my attention

rarely but sometimes a bobcat
dashes out from darkness
between trees off the
the pumiced highways
through mountain passes

this is my first poem
since my grandmother
died & I am unsteady
though she was ready
she left her stories
how not far from Crater Lake
in Klamath Falls as a teenager
she picked dandelions to experiment
into rubber for WWII & she cared
for her mother, jaundiced
by the things of life
that compromise health 

this makes the wealthy different
their sleep in first class
good food in small portions
gated into health

but for others wellbeing
is cratered, a precarity
Carlee told the boy that his survival is urgent to her
she wants him to hold onto his
deserved chunk of geologic time

my national park-poem is a people poem
national parks frame wilderness for us
to access the sublime, but still, the sublime
can be a predator

maybe Crater Lake is famous enough
for me to write lazy lines:
it’s very very blue it’s very very deep
not famous in linear feet like
Yosemite or Yellowstone
but a good six inches of books are on my table

but no. I am a gumshoe poet 
I will go there 


ii          Crater Lake National Park

balance is achieved by wobbling
the tightrope walker said
on the BBC podcast while I journeyed
200 or so miles south to Crater Lake
& slept the night suspended
in a hammock from two ponderosa pines
& now I rock in a wooden chair
on the observatory deck at Crater Lake lodge
where I dragged in my sleeping bag
still cold from the night rocking
in the trees

the blue blue lake looks still, placid
maybe a ripple no a wobble from wind
on this no-exit no-entrance
lake biding time

this lake is evidence
I suppose we all are evidence of
some histories

all of us on this viewing deck
rocking in chairs. A man
facetimes his son in Louisiana
who is preparing for a tropical storm
British teenagers give voice to awe
from the same script I know—
gasps & adjectives that contour feeling

many of us have our devices. I read
my screen for news:

Nineteen year-old Larnell Malik Bruce was murdered

in Gresham, maybe 12 miles
from my home

white supremacists ran him down with a jeep

I try to recall Lucille Clifton’s lament
for James Byrd dragged by a truck
to his death in Jasper Texas

but Larnell Malik Bruce was murdered
in this cartography & polis, in these specific days of
geologic time & geographic statehood
in which Crater Lake exists

if I were alive I could not bear it Lucille writes

this is the deepest lake in the nation
a downward mountain, a collapsed
magma chamber

I look at my screen, more news of Portland
police rousing homeless campers
on the Springwater Corridor

snow becomes this lake & then
Its water moves into the air

I click on the slides of displacement:
tarps, bike parts, sodden laundry
a sunflower sprouted in a bucket of soil by a squat
a police officer leans on a shopping cart

the lake is so clear that the light sinks low
into spectral blue & indigo

there’s a small video of Vic on my screen
he wears a Blazer t-shirt
he hasn’t slept for days, he’s softspoken
he builds bikes for other campers
we need a purpose, he said
grief fills the body like a cold
cold lake

the lake is an equilibrium
of snowmelt & vapor
& to the south, a field of pumice
fifty miles deep of ash
where my daughter palmed summer
snow when she was eight
when I was eight I touched the ash
blowing south from Mt. St Helens
a youthful volcano in this Cascade Range

Oregon childhoods are volcanic, a bit

no rivers or streams reach Crater Lake
light plunges in—
spectral reds oranges yellows greens
absorbed into clarity

its depth, once measured in lead
weights & piano wire
varies little year to year
but in those depths, beyond visibility
below the water, the old fires are burning
in the molten rock, the magma
not yet named lava

thousands of years of volcanoes & it’s not over yet
the volcanic rubble, fire-broken rock

the lake is telling me a story or two,
how the mountains build & fall, volcanically

all lit up in this geologic time

each of us evidence
of our leaden depths
ashen & molten

in our triage & our leisure

Related Poems

Île des Monts Déserts

It is very high, and notched in places, so that there is the appearance to one at sea, as of seven or eight mountains extending along near each other. The summit of most of them is destitute of trees… I named it Île des Monts Déserts. 
—Samuel de Champlain, 1604


When Samuel de Champlain sailed into Frenchman’s Bay
and saw this island’s evergreen mountains
blown clean back to ledge along their ridges,
this utterly foreign land,
an island foreign even to its coast—

it’s founded on a piece of Africa,
brought with us in the drift—

I know there were people living here but I’m thinking
of Champlain because he was coming from
a world not all that different from ours now
of crowded, elbowing streets and long-hour shifts,
a landscape cleared and plowed, or paved and built,
the power to change tight-fisted held by a few,
and grinding, messy wars that go on and on,
from which he had returned to make this voyage—

When Champlain sailed in here in one of those
square-rigged ships that can only follow the wind,
the whole crew thirsty, in clothes that must have been
putrid, having stared for months at nothing
but water, sliced at the world’s edge cleanly

and saw this place we still see from the ocean—
huge rock pushed through by a liquid fire
then sledged by mile-deep ice into a thing
of character, and then grown over
by the green that rules this world—

did he believe again, or for the first time,
in the holiness of the earth, the unassailable
authority of Earth, its calm command
beyond whatever temper tantrum Man
throws on its floor, or did he think

he’d simply entered heaven?

This isn’t exactly the question I have in mind.
Perhaps it isn’t a question. 
But I like thinking about Champlain catching sight
of this humped jungle, these long heads lifted
thoughtfully, then sailing closer
until it became a world—

thinking about his era’s view of the earth,
in which, wherever you sail, it just keeps
sending up mountains and lakes and beaches and forests,
how easy and right it must have seemed
to believe in a power far beyond ourselves,
in a kind of benevolent infinity…

I guess I am looking for my own direction
in the world such as it is—
like his, but lacking that one key hope:
that when this land is burned, there will always be another—

my own way to think of Acadia,
this ever-more-precious island we’ve somehow kept
wooded, and rocky, and punctured through with clear lakes—
enough like it was that if you hold
your finger across the houses at its feet
you can still, sailing into Somes Sound,
see more or less the place that Champlain saw

and, also, know the place for the first time—

which is always the feeling of powerful beauty, isn’t it—
that something has been here the whole time
and we are just now seeing it,
and must now reconsider all our theories
that there could be such a place—

or poem, or string quartet, or person?

They come in droves now, a long string tugging them
ever across the land bridge to gaze down
from the steep western cliff of Cadillac
into the open eye of Eagle Lake,

the tree-massed mountains of Penobscot and Sargent
building up beyond it like the land is still gaining power,
their sheer cliff walls like cities left by dreams,

and the ocean laid out flat, its moss-tuft islands’
miniatures of cliffs and beaches calm
as if you had imagined them—

Is it the kind of life you could live
that you see here?  French Jesuits

came next, to bring around the souls
of those already here; they set up camp
at Fernald Point, and I wonder, too, if they saw

where they were, or just the prospect
of some better place—Mount Saint Sauveur,
not yet named, but standing up

god-like behind them, its sheer rock plunging
straight down into water, down through murk
for miles to find its footing.