Forest Fires

The sky makes it known to the clouds,

They have overstayed their welcome,

So they leave.

 

With them they take the rain,

Like a reluctant child in a divorce,

The clouds take it by the ear.

Rain, after all, has never been independent

 

In both their absences and under the sky’s naked face,

Heat and dryness squat in the vacancies,

Together the duo eat the colors of the hills,

They drink the moisture,

Like kings,

 

Bears carved out of wood that hold signs,

Or rather they hold dials,

Or rather they hold colors,

They tip us off to the danger,

 

It’s just a change of seasons,

The order of things we know,

So we don’t think past, or before it,

And accept it,

 

It’s just fire season,

It happens every year,

 

Eventually all these things will give birth to the season’s namesake,

It’ll starts off so small, big things often do,

Find the parallels, smell the metaphor,

Cliche.

 

Red will evolve from being a color,

It’ll learn to breathe, splinter, and dance,

Orange shall follow the same, The two reproducing,

Their lineage as one of variance,

 

Animals, if they can, will pour out of the forest,

Seeking refuge, they’ll dart,

Horns, hooves, wings, claws,

They have always feared the fire,

For what it’s worth, so do I.

 

The fire season fears nothing,

It’s only a season, after all,

You can’t expect that much of it.

******************

The nerve endings in my brain look like the bare branches of twenty-six-year-old oak trees. Sky as a virgin to clouds and rain, my fire seasons started at eight years old. Grass the color of dirt, and the wind like salt in a wound, it must be that time of year again.

It’s the smell that really gets to me. I can smell it on people’s words, it pours out of the hollowness of their eyes. They hide their soul like a burn victim would hide their scarred skin. Turtlenecks in July, T-shirt in the swimming pool, we have adapted to hide our scars. It’s the smell that is a bit more tricky.

 

The fire rages when it comes.

 

We have different words for these fires. Each one slightly different in hue, but similar in the way they burn. I call mine post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD for short. I usually use the acronym, it’s easier. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a bit of a mouthful.

 

Actually, I was taught to call my fire that. A therapist I went to taught me that name. I used to call it, “There is something wrong with me.” Sometimes I would call it, “I am crazy.” There were an assortment of phrases I would call it, all with the same basic idea. I am alone and outcast.

 

While most earned that condition in the battlefield, I earned my in a bedroom. I was not in uniform when I earned my badges, but I received my commendation the same. Thus the fire was sparked. The arsonist wasn’t a careless cigarette, but instead a very intentional young man. My innocence was the kindling and, goddamn, it burnt quick.

 

With a jacuzzi chest and a felt mouth, I used to fight the flames with opiates. White torpedos to the gut resulting in serotonin mushroom clouds in my brain basket. Those turned into clear crystals up my nose, jet fuel that kept me awake too long to dream. They kept me too full to eat. Booze as a moat to impede the flames crossing. The fire eventually won, though. Despite how I fought, the fire always reached me. It always does.

 

I gave up on those extinguishers, though. They looked nice at first, but then they melted into my hands. Ultimately, I had to fight the fires they created too.

 

My firefighters have been a ragtag group of people who have cared not that I have globs of melted flesh for skin. They picked up my scorched body, washed out the smoke from my clothes. They have shown up over the years to man the flames. To say they saved my life wouldn’t even begin to describe the gratitude I have towards them. I am thankful for the dispatch that saw the smoke over my hills, and sent that ragtag group my way. The dispatch that shot out aid, even when I was too blanched to dial 911.

 

******************

 

The sky apologized to the clouds,

And with the clouds came rain,

With the rain came growth,

The scorched earth slowly pushed out life,

While the terrain never looked the same again,

 

There was something tenacious about it,

More beautiful,

More vivid,

 

Something that said, “in spite of,”

Though it took so much more effort,

Though the ground would always hold the memory,

 

The first flower that bloomed,

Well, I think the red in its petals,

Burns in a way,

No fire ever could.

 

-TL Schaefer

 

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