Dear Amanda: for you the fire of fallen birch, the fire of mountain maple, the fire of cold hands in colder water, the song sparrow’s blaze of rust. Fire takes work, takes care, takes a steady eye. Fire where the water has been ice, will be water. Fire high, lighting the path, or low, signaling sleep to disembark across featherweight boards. Heels like sparks. Fire in the streetlight at the end of our block. Fire in the kingfisher’s pupil. Fire licking the palms of broken, ordinary men and women named after saints. Fire of saying goodnight means goodnight. Fire in the minds of the snoring dogs. Fire in the cannibal’s blood for meat and meat and meat. Fire in the child’s skeptical glare. Fire open-ended as any life, any span of presence, any strain of the temporarily divine. The fire of anxiety and acute awareness of self-awareness. Fire of the self drifting into a flurry of sunsets, a sudden aging. Fire as fear of gasoline-powered engines. Fire as the storm siren triggered by mistake on a perfectly blue afternoon and no excuse given. Fire as one of two outcomes: listen to the body or make the body listen. Fire as endgame, as vertical flare of a votive left burning.
Dear Amanda: wildflowers take aim right through the endless stone. Night-blooming seizure of fossils and duff, sandstone and granite under heels, loam and withdrawn roots overhead. Someone falls climbing it and someone else hurries to the site of the crash. It gets inside the head and tunnels around, looms from the haze although from there we would loom hazily as well. Tangle after tangle of yew. Footprints in the deep sand you’ve staked as your heart. Footprints in mine too. All beyond us: stone is witness to nothing at last. Had nothing to say, or wouldn’t, at least if it could speak. A sterner ecology ripples between growth-rings. Things need skins, sheaths, husks—otherwise no identity, no elements, no home. Is lightning part of the sky or the land? Don’t ask. The waves go from glass to catastrophe in minutes thanks to what anchors from beneath. A bootprint on the slanted ceiling timbers. A rock at the intersection of salamander and moss. The world spins fast enough to hold all of this in place: the breath, the rain, the gale, the ankle, the tendon, the branch, the air, the sparrows, the flies, the underground rivers chanting above, and don’t let me off.
Dear Amanda: knee-deep in Lake Superior the self finds slick algae, a leaky boot, a broken fingertip, a heart with mandibles and the scars of unknown fights. The surface, where air comes always rushing to meet light, is not so easily described. Take for instance the stones paving the bottom: no hurry in their positioning to uphold, just a certainty of stillness, a those who wait stance that our always flowing, always churning bodies are obligated to envy but in-between the visible stone and the eye that sees, a universe of microscopic equations solved and solved again by eating, dividing, dying. Nothing like a prayer. Not a sutra or a chant. Just a drive. Like the wind around every last thing with a face. Let’s say this is not about water. What then? Nothing. The nothing that subsists on nothing. Shimmy of transparent tails, wake of a fishing duck, steel gills of the trout in the blue canyons, man in a rowboat—beard, plaid flannel, camo hat—turning around. The temper of summer comes out swinging and the storm divides the waves into sides: those who pull, those who crash, and the teams keep switching. Here we are riding in the middle, in the same world with the same current pushing us along.