Because the first condition of the universe is fire Because fire is the emergence and culmination of a cycle Because fire is a product of rise over run Because fire itself is narrative Because the correlation of breathing in the proximity of flame is part of the story Because we purse our lips to intensity Because of the angle of the body to ash Because the Pulaski is the vehicle of the power Because the power is gained in its arc Because shins are rock-bruised and bloody Because the legs do not flinch anymore at the tool’s deflection Because adrenalin is a feast for the body, brain euphoric Because fear is the instinct Because the crown-fire is above you Because fire can double back on an anchor point Because the chinking of tools in rocks grows syncopated and scattered Because our very breath is fuel to the fire (Little bird, little bird, do not spirit away) Because our labor is an orchestration Because our weather girl is six foot three with a full beard and answers to Toad Because Toad takes weather every half hour, then fifteen minutes, then is constantly Swinging the gauge: good Toad, bad Toad, fuck Because the burnout operation from the river to the ridge is our symphony (At once, two birds of flame rise outside the line) Because the underside of crown-fire is fire Because we smack-talk the flame-front to resist its trancing convections Because it is there, always there: my urge to enter the fire
Sting of that fire elemental Of the many-tongued flame-to-be And of that blaze set always Between you and me: the blue-rooted Flame, the mother-of-pearl-flicker, The radiant-glazed, gradient-whorled, The updraft-wafted, drought-kilned, The beetle-killed kindled, smoke- Tendrilled, slope-addled, stop-haunted, Spoor-mottled, budworm-brittled, Fungus-fluttered, bole-blasted, Lightning-licked, root-rot ringed, Fire, fire, fir, the dry, dry air alone— The ember-suckled, cold-cell nurtured, The gust-granted, the buckbrush-muffled, The beargrass-bejeweled, the kinnikinnik- Strewn, the ladder-fueled, the tenuous- Rooted, cambial-scorched, the drip-torched, Saw-kerfed, shovel-scraped, all the singe- Worthy duff, and you (ah!) my lord, STING.
When the holding-wood pops And the snag sets back Twisting the peewee wedge Out of the back-cut, there is That singular moment Looking up the narrowing length Of barkless trunk that the light Shivers at the crown And the body pauses And the saw pauses Before torquing from your hands And even though the snag Is spinning toward you You watch the light coming down— Bright ash, bright ash, flesh.
We give Our lungs To the fire, Their frothy Pink and Trembling Capacities. The hinge-work Of our knees Also. What’s good Of our backs We give, Disks in The spine flattened, Springing To the nerves. Shoulders Tendon-bright, Straining The sockets. We give Bruise, we Give gash Whatever Bleeds, bleeds— Shin-bones Divoted From tool-blows, Armpits raw From sweat-rimed Nomex Grating under Line-gear straps, Heels Blister-jelled, Popping, Back of neck Seared, glistered. Give ankles Hobbled, Ligaments Tattered Sutured tattered. Skin we give To ember, To aramids, To the long Memory Cancer has. Ears given To squelch, Break, Rotor wash, A far voice Calling Weakly For water For god Who is Water Out there In the Brittle woods. Give lips Heat-crazed Blubbering Double time Double time, Water Boiling From eyes, Lashes Rancid nubs, A beard, Moustache Smoldering, Tobacco spit Tobacco Slobber. Fingers In gloves In ash Swollen, putty To the bone, Lactic surge In arms In calves As we pause Swiping back The grime-slicked hair then bending To our Ash-dark art Once more.
Morning finds us A slight easterly breeze Skurling up ash From the far ridge Laid bare last night In a back-burn. Sweat beads up, Grit on forearms, Tools, fresh-filed, flash The purpled sun. Upslope we tread The trough of hot-line— Buckbrush roots, Pulaskied back to the Overburden, glisten. Wounds on our shins Darken. We hike on Past the char of deer Beginning to reek— Turkey buzzards swoop Then veer. Beargrass Twists its smolder, The punky duff. Above The thermal belt We pause. Particulate Layers lift from the draw And the water we drink Lifts from our pores, A salty halo catching The light. We tune Radios to the spot- Weather forecast, The complex parameters Of the County Line Fire. We hike on, ears Twitching for a whistle That is a snag coming down After Szabo took one Yesterday, smashing His shoulder to mush.
At Helispot Delta we huddle In a reeky air of soot, char, Flesh unwashed and waxy In Nomex and line-gear As we scan the mosaic Of the dwindling fire: False draw scathed, Wet draw seared, Islands of green Below the thermal belt. Some open the last MREs, Hoard tiny Tabasco bottles. Some sharpen tools, Repack gear, calculate The manifest, the weight Of each sling-load. Some Tune to chatter on the hand-held, Squelch out codes: Helibase, Helitack, Strike Team, Cat 2 Crews, Con Crews, Digger Squad, bucket drops, Lead Plane, Dozer Boss— So many names in the smoke As the inversion sloughs Toward us, we who torched this Eden, and will again.
Kevin Goodan was born in Montana and raised on the Flathead Indian Reservation where his stepfather and brothers are tribal members. Goodan earned his BA from the University of Montana and worked as a firefighter for ten years with the U.S. Forest Service before receiving his MFA from University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2004. He has taught at the University of Connecticut and has served as Visiting Writer at Wesleyan University. He currently lives in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire.