As of this post we hear that over 190 “structures,” principally in Rist Canyon, have burned in the High Park Fire 10 miles West of Fort Collins– now spread to nearly 40,000 acres and 0% contained. Shortly after posting, I learned that one of the mainstays of our “old guard,” Linda Steadman, perished in her cabin. R.I.P. LS….
Requiem for Rist Canyon
It seems that these days
I am often writing about fire—
paraffin, chaff, ash and smoke.
Back draft, carbon, smelting and cinder:
for tonight Rist Canyon and the Roosevelt burn
and it is the conflagration of the ponderosa
and the basalm and the spruce
and the running of the deer,
the high wailing of the horses let loose
to save themselves, the small rodents
weeping their way
into smoldering tunnels of loam.
Smoke makes a scrim of years:
I see my father leaning out of the car,
his face upturned to the Roosevelt’s trees
looking for dwarf mistletoe,
running out of air,
rolling up his canyon maps,
his career as a forest pathologist,
a firefighter in Fort Valley.
I tune in a scanner, and there is static.
I smell the fire in my home
from twenty miles away, its deadly
throbbing heart. I think of the A-frame
where years back we sequestered
politicos on the lam, helping them on
to Canada and where Robert Bly camped
in the old cabin up a rocky path,
a Nordic god among us,
an archangel telling the truth
of napalm and valor,
and again of the children, the horses
and the deer, the dogs, the cats in hiding
while the people run?
Do not reference the unspeakable;
now the flashbacks won’t stop, even though
it’s midnight in the canyon
of our decline, the old guard with our
bone erosion, scarred flesh,
dreams down to embers.
They say this has been coming,
our Armageddon, for years.
You can see it on the aerial maps,
Stove Prairie burns,
Rist Canyon is tinder and I wonder about
Gyorgy Vidacs’above-ground kiva,
if his Navajo rugs are in flames and if
he made it down the mountain in one
of his old beaters; about Baker’s place,
my old history prof, how he defended
the taking of Christmas trees from his land
on horseback, rifle on the pommel:
Pat there living alone, transforming
lichen and needle carpet into gardens;
my philosophy prof’s refuge next door,
my old whiskey-soaked lover’s cabin
in its own perilous valley, path lined
with old canes that belonged to Tomahawk,
a ‘Nam vet, his ashes flung far and wide
during an Apache sing long ago.
And about the old friends who homesteaded
at the Davis Ranch, down that road
in the valley that was paradise, where eagles
felt safe to nest on the bluffs for all the years,
so much history of this place going up,
the exquisite old wooden fences, the early
settler’s cabins, the one room school:
do we need to be purged of the few things
that we permit to radiate consolation
to the tiring soul?
Through the smoke, I see the pig roast
on Sommerfeld’s place in’70
when we danced around flames
that we trusted not to jump the line
while we loved each other
under the pines until morning.
So many years back and the week
we were snowed into the canyon, all of us
in our blue work shirts and bandanas
and long legged jeans,
our dream of common ground,
the collective we in those days;
how we were one for all, all for one
and all in, believing we could reverse
the viciousness of the world
with its flagrant beasts: hunger,
tsunami, the terremoto, the quakes
that open and eat the terrain;
the dictator, the war lord,
the plane without a pilot
gifting a village with death,
the rhetoric of draw-down.
Now some part of me wonders if everything
should not be torched to the ground
in a slash and burn on behalf
of the human soul, so that we are forced
to crawl out of the ashes, half Icarus fallen,
half phoenix rising,
but above all, here, now, out of reprieve
and in a deficit of mercy in the acrid
and billowing midnight, all
has become flame,
great scythes of it, swallowing cabin
on cabin, dream on dream.
Jenne’ R. Andrews June 11, 2012
copyright Jenne’ R. Andrews June 11, 2012 Fort Collins, Colorado
When I read in the paper this morning about the fire, I wondered how close it was to Ft. Collins and whether you had evacuated or, at home, and writing out the experience. Marvelous details throughout this exceptional poem, Jenne. It out to be published in the Denver newspaper and online.
thanks, Maureen. Hugs…very sad. xj
Britton Minor said:
Oh gawd, Jenne. I am deeply sad for these losses. I can only, and barely, imagine the anguish you feel-the helpless desperation as the losses gather in plumes of smoke in and around you. I am so sorry. Your work, however is beautiful, as always.
Thanks, Britton. You know how poets are….opportunists….;) xj
Darlene Mueller Morse said:
The world needs poets such as you to make sense, to put into words, to have an outlet, to introspect, to decree and to reminisce when nature calamities happen, when people are mixed up in the out-of-our-doors world. It is how it is. Your poem covers it all, from the very smoke-filled crevases of our hearts where the firefighters can never reach to the wide open dark skies of daylight. Thank you.
Many thanks, Darlene….a wonderful comment I will cherish. xj
Carolyn Wade said:
A poignant tribute to a beautiful place that nurtured so many through the ages.
brian miller said:
goodness jenne…hard…fire knows no prejudice, it just is and consumes…
the second bit about your father i loved the most…the third, all the people, that twisted my heart…
Thanks so much, Brian… yes, we are in a fix here….xj
This is heartbreaking…I feel a fly on the wall looking at a moment of grieving…the photo is scary!
thanks for reading me, Tash– xxxj
This is heart breaking. Fire destroys everything in its path and has no respect for life or property at all. I am sorry for the loss of The lady you knew. I feel sad for all the animals who don’t understand and are terrified of the fire too. It must be dreadful to live so close and not know whether you will lose everything. The land will recover over time but, people’s lives will never be the same.
Virginia Febinger said:
Gay Reiser Cannon said:
I’ve only seen Yosemite once – and it was on fire as you state here. There is a majesty with the burn and a horror! You capture both along with history of the place, your place. Colorado is one of my “other” homes – a neighborhood of soul and longing. My personal private place (like the one mentioned in Rainy Mountain) is on a large rock on the stream that falls across the trail on Hunter Mountain in Aspen. I hope you have mapped a road out if it gets closer. Your poem is ablaze in the current imagery!
Thanks, Gay– it has been a bit daunting and troubling to have so much “free” imagery come pouring into my psyche by virtue of the fact that this very nearby raging fire has displaced 100 families and counting. I hope that I have given voice in part to what others are living…xxxj the mortality lesson brought home in spades. xxj
WHat a full touching report. Maybe we could have the poetry news channel. Excellent job, very, touching, moving, and real life.
Thank you, Henry…xxj
Wonderful, awful. k.
Thank you, Karin… I value your insights and immensely admire your gift. xxxj
Samuel Peralta / Semaphore said:
This one burns through the sinew of emotion, turning the heart to ash. Every time I visit here, I have to say I envy you, the ability to make words sing so easily. And yes, I know that you will say I too can make them sing… but for me it is an effort, a wrestling with the words, a struggle, sometimes I think it is impossible. And yet, here you are, evidence that some are by the muse, indeed, blessed.
And your comments humble me, Sam– I don’t see myself and work as you do– perhaps I/we should… Forty odd years of the making of poems makes them seem to come easily, but not entirely– there is the self-questioning, the thought that one is too facile, somehow gifted with the sleight of hand instead of the real thing– you have been a wonderful encourager and you have produced a great many poems I wish I’d written, to return the compliment! xxxxj
the environment and age…and memories.
it’s very considered, and leaves me melancholic
Thank you– it has been an epic fail of an experience…..xj
I’ve experienced this in Washington state, New Mexico, and last year, Texas. It is incredible to feel our insignificaance as the fires rage and ravage.
A sad but quite excellent write, Jenneane.
Elisabeth Kinsey said:
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