Fire lives the death of earth, as air lives the death of fire . . . . − Heraclitus
i. Riddle of Sun
Fat roots that fucked deep will shrivel.
From drought’s dry earth, tall weight will fall.
A pine’s risen branching’s once-green, once-supple needles will parch
delicately brown and crumbling.
Living wings will find sky’s flyways as the dying will erase flyways that any human eye might target
to recognize in passing as a tanager’s red wings will blaze, flickering from
another instinct-guided return to April’s branch.
Like sea ice thawing, television glass floats its dark surface
until a pushed button flashes it into glimpses of vistas of white
ice ridges crumbling into slushy sea.
Through polar wastes, forests rose then died and froze,
as they will rise again in warming sunlight.
Glaciers bled their freshets streaming down from summits,
as they will bleed away again in warming sunlight.
Ocean spilled over plains, as waves will spill
again in warming sunlight.
The blood-red feathers remember through their color, following veins
of the river of red, primordial
river of impulse.
Eyes will cut to follow then lose red’s departing through green,
through the blushing and the flushing through
diurnal survival, each and each,
one by one wakening, each caught in itself.
Stars continue opening, great night always widening to carry all stars
like leaf embers floating through the younger night
of a forest, where sparks
will spread wider into wildfire opening
into becoming itself.
The wakening wakens itself toward more
than impulse, strangeness opening through savannas of strangeness,
spreading to seed night’s continents with luminous blooms of cities
and day’s tall stems of stacks belching their blooms of gray haze.
The gritty drift opens
as older smoke rose hazing from carnage’s campaigns,
demarcations of borders lost in the flaming
of maps shriveling into embers, each column climbing, billowing mirrored in eyes
to blear after eyes have shifted away,
smoke shredding into the sky
of clouds’ metamorphoses
and the sun.
ii. Riddle of Meaning
Time opens its night
littered with its phase of stars.
The book drifts open
forever hinging toward forever’s
last chapter of embers.
The book that is the wakening dream
opens as though offering its pages’ blank oblivions.
The pages accept their ledgered lettering.
The book of time slams open.
Its sudden, blown pages turn and burn, glimpsed
mantra after mantra inscribed shimmering through its pages’ charring,
sutras smoldering into smoke.
The pages turn themselves, coal-red wings opening
bound by their book’s spine from flying,
until the splay of two blackening pages and their columns of incandescent words hover shivering.
From letters’ litter, one line
brands itself to be read, reread,
neurons’ electric freshet blazing its path. Dream-steps waken
into finding their way, following the line of meaning’s swift, luminous runnel.
The synaptic, coursing descent radiant as lava is the edge that guides the footholds’ steep ascent.
The words speak themselves
as burning branches speak their consumption, crackling into recitation,
heard in illumination
into starless night’s cavernous void through a skull,
through depths of ocher-painted walls
of the eon-womb of a cavern’s cool, sunless echo.
The enduring transformation falls and rises
through sparked kindling into a human age of swarming thoughts’ feverish flaming of naming.
A great going was guiding itself, climbing somewhere
swept with glimpses of a vista’s distances flickering through cloudcover’s rifts.
A great impulse was scaling, clinging to a cliff face. Mind was ascending
a mountain it began to feel itself becoming,
maps of rivers cascading, sparkling into rivers—
impulse opposite from one day’s sun’s ultimate pulse
mind would come to see out through the distance,
foretelling into the billioning of a few sun-tethered worlds’ orbits wheeling into the erupting
fire-future’s sun-tsunami’s suddenness of consuming
any remaining archives of measured and studied astronomies.
Lucence will consume all stones
imprinted with what were once wind-stirred fronds
and pinecones scattered on ancient sun-dappled ground.
Lucence will consume
all remnant stones shaped from the shifting guises that flickered
to shards of hungering, searching ape-shapes and man-shapes
sunken, locked under deepening earth’s layers and weather’s vagaries of ages of ice, lightning and baking drought.
The turning page withers, collapsing.
There is the crumbling page’s phrase of the senescent sun
belching out its fiercest wildfire engulfing its long-encircling worlds,
engulfing the long reign of bacteria swarming and churning
then joining and becoming the burning.
There in the page, a mantra is another spring migration of a tanager glinting to a branch.
There, winter forgets itself through ice cliffs collapsing.
There, a sutra is summer sun’s shimmer over a river
of traffic inching over miles
of a highway’s baking asphalt.
iii. Riddle of Sparks
Empty cavern of a skull
had held a night of bison running across cavern walls,
all held deep in unheld night.
Some fragments will be dug and lifted into sunlight, carefully brushed of earth and numbered,
as other rubble will remain degrading incarnations, like memories
degrading, unrecoverable, through the layers lost in the layers.
Smoke rises washing into eddies, as waters eddy.
Rivers know nothing
of lives ending on banks declared to be borders.
Map’s paper yellows into brittleness knowing nothing of ink’s delineations.
A river’s rush fights its war against rocks,
until carving its strength as a hill’s arid scar.
Drought abrades green scoured into sand.
Rivers offer their waters
to the conquering sun.
Orange-robed monks sit on earth in their auras’
gestures given in gasoline and flames.
The page ripples through flames’ sinews.
The vision wavers into becoming itself.
Sparked pistons slam.
Asphalt’s scroll spills toward desert’s red sun.
A human skull levitates in flames. It floats,
inked in sun-reddened flesh of bicep, leather-chapped thighs
hugging gas tank’s paint-sprayed slash of meteoric flames.
Circle mirrors circle.
Vortex twins vortex.
The two tires blur locked in chasis.
The two wheels whirl
caught as in curse of pursuit.
Caught in one course,
one wheel races never to catch the other,
as one wheel will never evade the other.
They pass roaring
Unearthed, ore’s fierce
cupped in cauldrons to be poured and forged.
Steel wheels clattered down steel tracks,
steel car following steel car
heaped, trailing windrush’s wake of black dust.
Cars’ length snaked under
clouds of night’s black sky.
Unremembered forests darkened into ore,
finally torn from mountains’ soil renamed overburden,
to be reborn in fire.
Pines sun-hungered to open into themselves—
shapes of messengers.
Finally, a time ripened
into a choosing of time—
time of the possible times that might be chosen.
Sun-bright beauty hungered to become itself.
Into the seeing and the seen,
it was a time for keeping sunfall’s world—
to keep it—to be it—
until voices within voices finally ripple through flocks
departing through sky—
voices of messengers.
Hand will let go of hand.
Form will depart from form.
The great book’s pages
will shrink away to sparks showering through darkness,
darkening into darkness.
It will burn away.
It will be the teeming phase of stars
entering the end of stars
cooling and crumbling.
Beyond time’s youth of the great, bright spirals,
residue will float, unraveled.
Darkness into darkness,
atoms will flock away
Atoms will drift farther
from other atoms,
in unfelt cold
of the ultimate night—
of the conquering night—
Notes on the Poem by Daniel Corrie
While writing this piece, I had some improvisational idea of aiming it to stand as a sort of “Anthropocene Guernica”. I don’t mean a stylistic affinity here so much as how that painting is such a contained, large expression of discord actually occurring at that time in the world.
Within the context of my entire book, a book I’ve been working on for some time, “Words of Time, Book of Fire” might be understood as a dirge passage. It might be understood as a dark-night-of-the-soul passage in the ecological-evolutionary liturgy that is my book as a whole.
What are we environmentalists hoping to preserve in a cosmos that embodies dynamic change? Are preservationist notions in fact based on denial of nature’s wild dynamism? Beyond that, in our Age of Fossil Fuels and our time of such ubiquitous Anthropocene destruction, I think all of us greens sometimes wonder whether we might as well simply find peace in acceptance—to settle into assuming some sort of god-like perspective—to surrender into savoring what remains of our biosphere as we follow it on its way down. This poem acknowledges all this, and, further, I mean “Words of Time, Book of Fire” to be a tool of contemplation for Earth grief, for Earth caring, for Ecozoic cultural evolution.
In this poem, the book image reappears, morphing into a different version than it assumed in Terrain.org’s earlier featured poem of mine, “Swimming at Night”. Back in college, I became deeply impressed with Yeats’s rich and meaningfully morphing image system. As a young poet, I set forth writing with that as a goal to explore and develop in my own work. In “Swimming at Night”, the book image appeared as a ghost book, displaying the natural history and human destruction of my South’s longleaf pines and ecosystem. In “Words of Time, Book of Fire”, the book image appears as the book of time opening in flames—opening as the Big Bang opened into being the whole of existence while also immediately falling into entropy. This existential ephemerality is the central truth of Buddhism; of Heraclitus, the West’s first philosopher prior to the forking off into Plato’s, Augustine’s, and Christianity’s notions of otherworldly eternity; and is the entropy that science says is constantly at work throughout existence. Within such a cosmic reality of incessant change, what does it mean for any of us to be agents of keeping and protecting? Within such a context of unrelenting change, what might we understand as sacred? What might we recognize as scripture within The Book of Fire?
Daniel Corrie’s poems have appeared in The Hudson Review, Image, Missouri Review, New Criterion, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Southwest Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Terrain.org. He and his wife live on their South Georgia farm where they carry out restoration of native longleaf pine and understory, as well as implementing a wildlife management plan to support gopher tortoises and other wildlife. They both volunteered a full-time year to organizing local resistance and preparing a lawsuit as part of a successful opposition of a proposed coal-fired electrical plant.