Words of Time, Book of Fire

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

perpetually provisional,

suddenly caught

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.

Parchment chars.

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

toward somewhere.

Unearthed, ore’s fierce

incandescence pooled

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

into separating.

Atoms will drift farther

from other atoms,

detritus parting

in unfelt cold

of the ultimate night—

of the conquering night—

 

 

 


 

Notes on the Poem by Daniel Corrie

Guernica

“Guernica” by Pablo Picasso, 1937.

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.
 
View poetry by Daniel Corrie also appearing in Terrain.org.

Header image, Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”, courtesy College les Aziles.

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3 Responses

  1. William Wright

    Rich and beautiful! This poem’s mythic depth and cosmic proportions accomplish so much–and clearly reflect a powerful imagination. The sound-textures are lush: “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 . . . .” This is an unusual and significant poem. I appreciate terrain.org for supporting poetry that truly resonates.

  2. Donald Platt

    Yes, an amazing poem (from an old friend) that strikes me in its best passages to channel the voice of Old Testament prophets, but proclaiming an encroaching ecological doom in our new third Millennium. What’s amazing is 1) its sound work (as Wright states quite rightly above) which uses to great effect a short line with all sorts of consonance, assonance, internal and end rhyme, slant and otherwise; Auden uses the same sort of technique in his early, short-lined poems; and 2) the way the voice can CONVINCINGLY capture large apocalyptic landscapes through wonderfully twisted enjambments that capture the lava flow of this poet’s thoughts. It’s real magma here. I especially like this apocalyptic, yet very specific, image (in the final section) of a tattooed biker—a kind of Yeatsian, Mad Max, second-coming beast easy-riding into the future:

    “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.”

    No disrespect to the Hell’s Angels, but that’s one disquieting dude!

  3. Daniel Corrie

    Don, it’s characteristically perceptive of you to notice how I intend my poem’s biker to be an Age-of-Fossil-Fuels update of Yeats’s slouching beast. Yeats’s beast was emblematic of Yeats’s own time’s discord and chaos, as my poem’s biker is emblematic of our own Anthropocene Period’s unfolding and worsening environmental discord and chaos.

    Should any readers be interested, I’m going to use your comment as an occasion to discuss why I included the biker image in this poem.

    First, for this poem about fossil-fueled climate disruption, I simply was taken with the vividness of the image of a biker riding down a highway. Too, the biker image extends the poem’s motif of fire (his gas tank’s painted flames and his sun-burned bicep’s fire tattoo).

    Second, I felt the biker would be a strong symbol of a problematic attitude that we’ve seen gain ascendency, which is an attitude of rugged individualism that, in fact, derives much of its sense of empowerment from fossil fuels, as the biker derives power from his bike. We can build our climate-controlled houses, have manicured lawns, drive our cars, have year-round produce, travel the world and maintain a historically unheard-of standard of living because of fossil fuels. We’ve become addicted to the ease and mastery that fossil fuels enable us to experience, despite what we’ve come to learn of their unforeseen destructive consequences. Hence, the biker image projects a sense of empowerment that ultimately is delusional and destructive.

    Third, I was attracted to the biker image because of its curse of the two wheels perpetually pursuing/fleeing one another. I realized the wheels’ curse/course suggested a foreboding I think more and more of us feel in our time’s Anthropocene entrapment in our fossil-fueled, climate-disrupted world. I felt the image of the two wheels captured what I think is our dawning collective sense of feeling trapped racing in a destructive direction. But, beyond that visceral level, our Anthropocene tragic flaw is that, through our human intelligence and enterprise, we’ve trapped ourselves in a sort of destructively circling feedback loop. When contemplating the two wheels, I personally found myself thinking how the wheels seemed an apt symbol of the loop of our time’s risen corporate powers that obtain their life from consumers – as our consumerist addictions, in turn, drive these corporations’ continuance: the two chasing one another like two wheels whirling, locked in their chasis, as our collective course corrodes our world.

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