Wildfire in forest with orange sky

Four Poems by Rachel Richardson

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Woodward Fire 

In some places the fire passed
lightly, searing only the west
side of the trees, crawling
through grasses. What you know
you may not know.

The field was spared and we rejoiced.
Thus endeth the first lesson.



Creek Fire

The dark comes in on a girl’s tenth birthday.
Fire bearing feathers—no, ash.
It comes with its big breath,
sun without light. Cold morning
in the surrounding counties, everyone blinking,
looking around, phones lifted to the horizon.



Tamarack Fire

I upload again and again
the little circles on the map
representing their air—

             (my children in their tents—)

cursing when red turns
to purple, praying to the god
I pray to, which is no god,

which is the vast smoky sky,
for orange, then yellow. Let me
be so bold as to pray

for green.

                               The fire was not
considered a danger when it
ignited on a rocky hilltop, and so

they let it burn. Wind, heat,
the big empty sky
gave it a path into the forest.



The Map is Not the Territory 

Within that vast
triangle, land that appears
to be hanging only by a flimsy hinge
to the continent, the burn scars
having leveled the grasses, having pushed
the elk elsewhere up the ragged edge
for reeds, the hearts of some downed trees
still smolder. This is what I go for. To walk inside it,
to know what remains of the kingdom.



This is the 13th of 13 contributions to the Lookout: Writing + Art About Wildfires series, in partnership with the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word at Oregon State University. The series runs from mid-May through early August 2022, the traditional height of wildfire season in the Western United States.


Rachel RichardsonRachel Richardson is the author of two books of poetry, Copperhead and Hundred-Year Wave, both from Carnegie Mellon University Press. Her work appears in The New York Times, Yale Review, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She serves as poetry advisor for the Bay Area Book Festival, teaches in the MFA program at St. Mary’s College of California, and co-directs Left Margin LIT, a literary arts center in Berkeley.

Read Rachel Richardson’s Letter to America, “Our Road,” in Terrain.org.

Header photo by My Photo Buddy, courtesy Shutterstock.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.