2 December 2004 | Vol. 4, No. 4

Wildfire Triptych

Fire burns; that is the first law.
– William Carlos Williams

I. What the Smoke Brings

For two full days the sirens

realized their high notes

in the quivering saucers

stacked inside cupboards,

and an exodus of field deer

cropped the blooming gladioli

down to a stubble. The wind

grew jaundiced, carried with it

a small sacrament of wood ash

to the soured root of my tongue,

left me raw-throated and quiet

in the plush backseat of the car.

It was a sad evening all day

and the deer, like refugees,

plodded the centers of streets.

I spelled with my finger

the words: wash me in soot

gathered on the hood

of my father's Coupe DeVille,

as I watched a six-point buck

spill a small cache of shit

like polished beads, unstrung

and falling through the yellow air

of the Sears parking lot.

II. Roof Dancer

If the winds swung east

my father would climb

the wooden ladder,

a pail of water weeping

from one hand, and wait

for the first stars to fall.

He'd stamp and douse

the cinders where they'd land

all night. This secret dancing

made weather inside our rooms:

thunder through the bones

of the house, a flurry of snow

descending from the rafters.

III. Five Variations on Sleep


To sleep that night was to travel

a great distance by train,

to drag from iron wheels

the crushed chassis of a Ford

a mile down the tracks, that,

and a clean rooster tail of sparks

to set the cattails blazing.


To sleep that night was to sing

trainsong falsetto: the lucid song

of metal gouging metal,

to hear the storm windows rattle

like teeth in the skull, to know

fire and the dark brother of fire

careening unhinged.


To sleep that night was to work

worm gears and pistons swing shift

through the night, to watch flame

carve, like a greased machine,

the hillside, to wheeze and shimmy

oiled phone poles and cleave

the roofline like a dawn sun

stalled and dilating in a field.


To sleep that night was to detonate

floorboards in dream, to stoke

the locomotive's blast furnace:

fire belly barreling through the interior,

the dried creek beds, the bleached crackle

of scrub grass sprouting into flame.


To sleep that night was to arrive

a refugee in a foreign station,

to avert your eyes and vanish

into the unmapped countryside,

the still smoldering landscape.

About the author:

Sean Nevin teaches creative writing at Arizona State University where he is director of the Young Writer's Program and is co-editor of 22 Across: a Review of Young Writers. He is the recipient of Literature Fellowships in Poetry from both the NEA and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. His poems have been published in numerous journals including: the Gettysburg Review, North American Review, 42opus, JAMA, and Hayden's Ferry Review. He is the author of A House that Falls (Slapering Hol Press) and Oblivio Gate, which won the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry First Book Prize (Southern Illinois University Press).

For further reading:

See the complete list of work by Sean Nevin at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 4, No. 4, where "Wildfire Triptych" ran on December 2, 2004. List other work with these same labels: poetry, editors' select.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

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