California is burning & already the woods where I first learned to love you have withered

an illustration of blurry fire-y mountains with two people in astronaut suits floating above the charred landscape, connected by a red thread
Art by Kristina Closs

Mt. Diablo

by Jacques J. Rancourt

California is burning & already the woods
where I first learned to love you

have withered, grayed. Last year
when fires rimmed the perimeter

of our city, we followed
in their wake, hiking

the underside of Mt. Diablo,
& what was left by then already

blackened to polish, to mythic ash.
At dusk we took a picture,

but our phones couldn’t register
the lights of our distant city, so we stand smiling

before a black backdrop. A year ago
I barely knew you & now I picture

all the ways I could lose you—
what virions might already be

multiplying in your cells; what truck,
running an intersection, might barrel

over yours; what I might say
if I only had one sentence to say it.

Metaphor will be the first to go.
To walk through the moon’s sea,

I told you on that hike, might look
like this—this burnt mountainside,

this Pompeiian aftermath,
lacquered to veneer. How here

we, like two astronauts, bob.
How here we, like two satans, patrol

the outer ring of hell’s topography.
How I will love you through

prize & peril. Some Scheherazade
I’ve become, some Persephone,

telling you lies, yarn
after yarn, to keep you alive.

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Will we walk all night through solitary streets?

I realize more with every passing day what a distinct privilege and joy it was to be able to walk through the market, shopping for peaches, shopping for images, striding down the open corridors together. This infamous poem by Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) is of course about so much more than a supermarket, but it keeps rolling through my mind as we navigate the unease of meandering through markets in this moment.

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“A Supermarket in California”

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Who can utter the poignance of all that is constantly threatened

As wildfire smoke covers so much of California in an eerie, devastating haze, I can’t help but think of this Denise Levertov poem that I posted years ago. Tonight I am holding not only this ever-fragile paradise I call home and all its people close to my heart but also the threatened landscapes and communities disintegrating across the world every day.

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“In California: Morning, Evening, Late January”

Pale, then enkindled,
light
advancing,
emblazoning
summits of palm and pine,

the dew
lingering,
scripture of
scintillas.

Soon the roar
of mowers
cropping the already short
grass of lawns,

men with long-nozzled
cylinders of pesticide
poking at weeds,
at moss in cracks of cement,

and louder roar
of helicopters off to spray
vineyards where braceros try
to hold their breath,

and in the distance, bulldozers, excavators,
babel of destructive construction.

Banded by deep
oakshadow, airy
shadow of eucalyptus,

miner’s lettuce,
tender, untasted,
and other grass, unmown,
luxuriant,
no green more brilliant.

Fragile paradise.

. . . .

At day’s end the whole sky,
vast, unstinting, flooded with transparent
mauve,
tint of wisteria,
cloudless
over the malls, the industrial parks,
the homes with the lights going on,
the homeless arranging their bundles.

. . . .

Who can utter
the poignance of all that is constantly
threatened, invaded, expended

and constantly
nevertheless
persists in beauty,

tranquil as this young moon
just risen and slowly
drinking light
from the vanished sun.

Who can utter
the praise of such generosity
or the shame?