Your Southeast forests are dry and burning in blazes that were “human-caused,” whether accident or arson. The ground and brush were tinder, ready for the kiss of spark, and rains that didn’t come all summer still aren’t coming, or not enough. In the spring, after snows have bandaged the raw burns, then melted into ferns and grasses, I’m going to walk across that mountain range. America, I admit this is a little selfish. I want to leave behind the noise of bitterness and rancor. When the wild azalea bloom in Georgia, I’ll be there. I bought a one-way ticket, though I’ll return eventually, stitching contrails from blue to red to blue again. I doubt you’ll change much when I’m gone, though I might. I’ll be paring to the bone: something to keep warm, a tent, food I can carry. Excuse me for not listening to anything but nesting birds and mammals rustling in the dark. I’ll have no way to get your headlines. I’ll be counting out my miles, following daylight, depending on the kindness and civility of strangers sharing news about the trail ahead. My new state will be from oldest rock—collided seam from when the planet’s shell was migratory, like birds and people.
America, it’s time to quench the flames. Stop flicking matches to the wind. Stop wounding what we claim to love. There are precious few do-overs left, and it’s not clear at all that streams the guidebooks call reliable will flow when we set out on foot again.
Suzanne Matson has published two books of poetry, Sea Level and Durable Goods, with Alice James Books, and three novels with W. W. Norton, most recently, The Tree-Sitter. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Boston Review, Poetry Northwest, The Southern Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Shenandoah, The Cortland Review, Terrain.org, and many other journals. She has received writing fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.