Burning the Fields
1. In the windless late sunlight of August, my father set fire to a globe of twine. At his back, the harvested acres of bluegrass and timothy rippled. I watched from a shallow hill as the globe, chained to the flank of his pickup truck, galloped and bucked down a yellow row, arced at the fire trench, circled back, arced again, the flames behind sketching first a C, then closing to O—a word or wreath, a flapping, slack-based heart, gradually filling. To me at least. To the mare beside me, my father dragged a gleaming fence, some cinch-corral she might have known, the way the walls moved rhythmically, in and in. And to the crows, manic on the thermals? A crescent of their planet, gone to sudden sun. I watched one stutter past the fence line, then settle on a Hereford's tufted nape, as if to peck some safer grain, as if the red-cast back it rode contained no transformations. 2. A seepage, then, from the fire's edge: there and there, the russet flood of rabbits. Over the sounds of burning, their haunted calls began, shrill and wavering, as if their dormant voice strings had tightened into threads of glass. In an instant they were gone—the rabbits, their voices—over the fire trench, into the fallows. My father walked near the burn line, waved up to me, and from that wave, or the rippled film of heat, I remembered our porch in an August wind, how he stepped through the weathered doorway, his hand outstretched with some book-pressed flower, orchid or lily, withered to a parchment brown. Here, he said, but as he spoke it atomized before us— pulp and stem, the pollened tongue, dreadful in the dancing air. 3. Scummed and boxcar thin, six glass-walled houses stretched beside our fields. Inside them, lilies, lilies— a thousand shades of white, I think. Eggshell, oyster, parchment, flax. Far down the black-mulched beds, they seemed ancestral to me, the fluted heads of dowagers, their meaty, groping, silent tongues. They seemed to form perspective's chain: cinder, bone, divinity . . . 4. My father waved. The crows set down. By evening, our fields took the texture of freshened clay, a sleek and water-bloated sheen, although no water rested there—just heat and ash united in a slick mirage. I crossed the fence line, circled closer, the grasses all around me collapsing into tufts of smoke. Then as I bent I saw the shapes, rows and rows of tougher stems— brittle, black, metallic wisps, like something grown to echo grass. The soot was warm, the sky held smoke in a jaundiced wing, and as a breeze crossed slowly through, stems glowed—then ebbed— consecutively. And so revealed a kind of path, and then a kind of journey.
From The Profile Makers by Linda Bierds (Henry Holt and Company, 1997). Copyright © 1997 by Linda Bierds. Appears courtesy of the author.
Linda Bierds was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and attended the University of University of Washington, where she received her BA in 1969 and her MA in 1971.
Date Published: 1997-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/burning-fields