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  • Writer's picturePenny Harter


Along with all the other horrors going on these days, I'm haunted by the news of the wildfires in the West. Last spring when I wrote this poem, it felt like an incantation against the grief of such profound losses---of the environment, of homes and businesses, of both animal and human family lives. It was published in a now defunct nature journal. I may have posted it here then, too, but feel like posting it again now.

Ravens, Foam, and Fire

In the West fires eat the hills. Planes drop red foam from their

bellies, coating fuel, cooling flames.

Already ravens pick through flesh burnt down to sodden ash. The smell. These words are not a bucket of rain.

Searchers harvest bones from cinders, gather DNA for families posting

names and photos on random walls.

When the sun strikes the raven’s open mouth, the tongue is red,

the throat a gaping scarlet maw.

Red red red the fire, the foam, the harsh screams issuing from

ravens’ throats, blood tears.

How can there be a totem for such loss? Tears scalding

the cheeks of the living?

These words are not a healing rain, are no solace, no compensation. Can we ask raven for reciprocity?

On the Pacific coast, white foam gritty with sand crashes on rocks, bubbles back to its source.

Ravens, foam, and fire, wind shrieking through burnt limbs, waves breaking on the shore.

Should we ignite the old gods? How do we read these runes? How do we mourn our dead?

(c) 2020 Penny Harter

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