Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Wasteland: on the California Wildfires

Green spring grass on
                     the hills had cured
                              by June and by July

 

 

                                                                          gone wooly and
                                                                brown, it crackled
                                            underfoot, desiccated while

 

 

within the clamor of live
                    oaks, an infestation of
                                          tiny larvae clung

 

 

                                                                        to the underleaves,
                                                             feeding between
                                         veins. Their frass, that

 

 

fine dandruff of excrement
                    and boring dust, tinkled
                                       as it dropped onto dead leaves

 

 

                                                                    below the limbs. You
                                                          could hear it twenty
                                                  feet away, tinkling.

 

 

Across the valley, on
                     Sugarloaf Ridge, the full
                                       moon showed up

 

 

                                                           like a girl doing cartwheels.
                                                  No one goes on living
                                       the life that isn’t there.

 

 

Below a vast column of
                      smoke, heat, flame, and
                                  wind, I rose, swaying

 

 

                                                              and tottering on my
                                                    erratic vortex, extemporizing
                               my own extreme weather, sucking up

 

 

acres of scorched
           topsoil and spinning it
                                outward in a burning sleet

 

 

                                                                of filth and embers that
                                           catapulted me forward
                                 with my mouth open

 

 

in every direction at once. So
                     I came for you, churning, turning
                                         the present into purgatory

 

 

                                                                because I need to turn
                                           everything to tragedy before
                                I can see it, because

 

 

it must be
           leavened with remorse
                      for the feeling to rise.

Credit


Copyright © Forrest Gander. Used with permission of the author.

Author


Forrest Gander

Forrest Gander is the author of several poetry collections, including Be With (New Directions, 2018), winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. He currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. 

Date Published: 2020-12-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/wasteland-california-wildfires