California on Fire

A poem by Julie Weiss

She can’t read the words through the smoke,
can’t decipher the letters on the blackened sign

so she keeps walking, in whatever direction
feels the chilliest. What good are words

anyway, when flames are rising out of the earth,
fanning their wings behind her, across

the night sky, as if a thousand snarling demons
have been unleashed from the underworld;

what good are words when her sweetheart’s body
lies crushed under fallen planks, when their

faithful old hound has vanished, when all
the memories they made together have been

drained of color, have ruptured and lie under
charred wood; the old space between the walls

of her home seemed so splendid in retrospect,
so plentiful of life, so dazzlingly hers that

she cannot reconcile herself to the monotony
of the debris, indistinguishable as a pile of bones,

slight enough to walk over, had her feet not been
bare, had she lingered until the embers cooled.

There were people who turned back, keen to retrieve
any relic of their former life that may have surfaced

in the aftermath, but what good are keepsakes when
the baby cradled in her arms has stopped breathing?

She has found a shelter, where they give her
fresh clothes and a bowl of soup and a mattress

in the corner. She suspects they are skirting
protocol when they pretend her daughter isn’t

dead, isn’t really nursing under the shawl
and though the words have burned up in her throat,

crumbled to ashes on her lips, she is grateful.
Someone has mounted a television on the wall;

she sees that man surveying the destruction,
his face ablaze, whether from sun or oil or plain

hate she couldn’t say, but he is contorting his words,
he is blaming her state, blaming her for not raking

forest leaves, blaming them all, as if they had
contrived the demise of their own families.

Julie Weiss received her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from SJSU. She´s a 44-year-old ex-pat from Foster City, California, who moved to Spain in 2001 and never looked back. Nowadays, she works as a telephone English teacher from her home in Ciudad Valdeluz, where she lives with her wife, four-year-old daughter, and one-year-old son. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Lavender Review, Sinister Wisdom, Glass: A Journal of Poetry–Poets Resist Series, The American Journal of Poetry, peculiar journal, Stonecoast Review, and Sky Island Journal, among others. You can find her tweeting from time to time @colourofpoetry.

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