by Gaylord Brewer


The first surprise is how angrily
logs answer, as if every punishing season
locked together prophesied such consummation.
We couldn’t save the Rembrandt or the cat,
resolve any forensic stupidities
or ever after learn the cause. Instead,
I limped the endless gravel drive, barefoot,
wheezing like a shot wolf, then stopped.
Where was I going? This was our isolation
mortgaged and worshipped. I breathed the moon.
I felt flame on my back and turned.

Next surprise, unfathomable heat.
I squatted beside my wife weeping
in the grass. I worried of our vulnerability
to chiggers—it had been a murderous year—
hoped blaze sufficient to save our skin.
Then I thought again randomly of books,
photographs, letters, so much paper
returning to essence. My poems, every last one.
I couldn’t. I couldn’t get through the door,
and I thought it spoke little of me
a thin manuscript came foremost to mind.

Red tongues, hydrangeas rows of sticks.
Blistered pole of the cherry we planted.
My eyes burned. As I touched my wife, her sobs
soared to the inchoate woods, the eyes
watching us watch. No human neighbors showed.

I crouched, dripping, shaking, tried to raise
Claudia from the infested ground
and speak usefully, somehow, above the roar.
That’s the third surprise, conquering voices
of the fire, and it felt forever before
I heard a first faint, responding siren.