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Friday, 5 June 2009


Oakland hills fire, 1991 (NASA aerial view)

Out of a blow dryer Santa Ana rolling
firefly showers down scrub oak
and eucalyptus canyons in wild
cascades explodes a bloody charcoal

cloud, and ghost smoke closes
in on trees that feel gun crazy
nervous in coverts of the night
as Oakland burns down toward the bay.

Later quieting evening beams up in a cold
opalescent moon above fogged ruins,
flickering gas mains are what remains
to glimmer in the charged glowworm dark.

Oakland hills firestorm: photo by Paul Kienitz, 1991


Zephirine said...

Fine poem, and that NASA photo is curiously beautiful, even when one remembers what it represents.

But then, I suppose when we admire the flight of swallows we're actually watching the death of many insects. Distance lends enchantment etc.

TC/BTP said...


Yes, any sort of distance... even in the experience of such calamities, I think, there is at first a kind of autonomic distancing, a strange moment in which our senses do the "thinking," before the sobering cognitive interpretation sets in.

I recall, that morning of the October '89 fire, stepping out the door into a curiously sultry atmosphere, watching a large plume of what looked like an equatorial storm cloud rise eerily through filtered sunlight, and for just that moment experiencing it as almost pleasant -- a feeling as though one had been transported to the tropics. Then in the next instant, on switches the mind, uh-oh. The hills are on fire.

We'd experienced something of the same sort a half dozen years earlier in Santa Barbara.

A uniquely Californian phenomenon, so common I'm always surprised people far away associate this crumbling state with golden dreams.

TC said...

(...Well, I suppose the "crumbling" bit might come off as sounding a bit dyspeptic. I meant to imply not only the tinderbox aspect and atmosphere of imminent economic collapse, but also the equally uncertain state of Californian geology: put in mind of this yesterday by a moderate temblor on the fault atop which we sit: a sharp, shocking, and meaningful reminder.)