Thursday, February 14, 2008

Fire (100x25)

I was sitting in on a third grade class while visiting poet Barbara Helfgott-Hyett led the class through a reading of a Babettte Deutsch Poem called “Fireworks.” After we had read and discussed the poem, Barbara asked us to close our eyes and try to picture fireworks. What came to my mind with an unexpected forcefulness was not fireworks but a great orange wall of flame, which I connected with a long-forgotten moment. When we were asked to open our eyes and write, I wrote the first draft “Yard Work,” the first poem of my own that ever pleased me.

Process Reflection: When I first read the topic, I thought immediately of "Yard Work," written when I was in my mid-thirties. It turned out to be the first of many I wrote about my father, whom for complex reasons I had consigned to a locked room in the far corner of my brain after he died when I was eleven. The image of fire opened that door, and my father was very much a part of mental life for months afterward, showing up unnannounced almost every time I sat down to write and even visiting my dreams to talk with me. Here's the poem:

Yard Work

Spring arrives, clear and dry. Out back,
my father and I collect branches
and twigs, pile them on the brush heap.
Blown against the fence, our Christmas tree
now brown and dry, trails tinsel as
we drag it over and toss it on top
of the pile. It's time. My father takes
newspaper and shoves it beneath
the twigs and leaves at the bottom.
"Stand back now, son," he tells me.
From his pockets he pulls a pack
of matches, tears one out. He bends
and strikes, then - cupping his hands
against the breeze - lights the fire.

First a curl of smoke, then orange fingers
fan upward. Upward! Leaping, the flames
catch and claw. The first lick touches the tree,
and with an enormous crackling whoosh!
it blazes, a yellow wall against the sky.
Lashed by the heat, I stumble back into
my father's arms. I stand stunned, shielding
my face, as black vapors stream skyward,
hissing; my eyes sting and tear. In seconds,
the tree is turned to black bones; the flames
subside. Cool air sweeps my face. Behind me,
my father stands. In silence we watch
the crumbling limbs burn slowly down to ash.

No comments: