I had wondered about the signs of burning –
sandalwoods whose sap exudings had crumbled to dust,
charred trunks at seemingly random points
while others fresh with unsinged bark, and some deep
burnings where rings of a tree had been turned
inside out, excoriated, left ill-fitting within the chimney
of a long established tree. There are other small signs
as well – how ants admonish a track, or where moss
might or might not persist past the driest edge
of summer. None of it made sense. The house shows
no signs – the old core of the house as it is now –
of fire, of giving up the ghost. But there’s a matte
to the sheen of paint to suggest fire or the sun
came close. We know there are lightning strikes:
I have seen the result. But then we hear that some
years ago a ‘new neighbour’ over the hill mowed violently
on a hot brittle day, kindling wild oats and spilling fire
up over and down the valley. It ran fast, apparently,
and the lines of rock the knuckles of granite pushed
it away in places, as did the annihilation of vegetation
enacted by dominant red ants. And firebreaks.
The fire shaped with the hills’ shape but stayed low
to the ground. Almost prescribed, but not quite,
as anomalies and paradoxes and tautologies
increased and bent older neighbours’ memories,
shared and reformed by newer neighbours.
Regardless, we bring a knowledge of such catastrophes
from our old place, and they serve us well
and serve as warnings here, too, and we know
fire is just around the corner, the house’s shadow.


Photograph by US Forest Service – Southern Region

Amir’s Iraq
An Occupation