~This poem previously appeared in The Los Angeles Review (2010)
Fires on Highway 192
after Neruda’s “Disasters”
In Florida, it was raining ash because the fire
demanded it. I had to point my car landward
and hope the smoke would part, but it was a grey sea
absorbing my body. Cabbage palms were annihilated.
Even the Indian River steamed. Black stalks stank.
The condominiums spit smoke into twilight.
Still, a cattle egret landed, preening, in a pasture
filled with embers – the cattle dead or removed.
And I was hungry; there was nothing to eat.
And I was thirsty and raised the river to my mouth.
And I was alone, and there was only that one egret
searching for a cow. The wind was a whisper on my tongue.
Ash on ash. Slumber shallow. I was a frown
in an unfamiliar city after sundown. Vultures circled
like assassins. I made a bed of the road. I made a pillow
of misery and slept and had no story I wanted to confess.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEM
When I wrote this poem, I thought of fire, a small road that was once a highway, and the cadence of the Bible. At one point, Florida was partially consumed by wildfires. My father said he had to take a detour when driving to Maryland from Florida because the fires shut down I-95. Friends who lived there said ash fell from the sky. When I next visited Florida, I noticed blackened trees on each side of the highway. They looked like sculptures of twisted metal. To the west of I-95 is a road I used to drive between the beaches and Gainesville, FL. When I lived in Florida, I took this smaller and less efficient road so I could pass through “old Florida.” Instead of strip malls and Targets, I drove past orange groves and empty fields. The poem combines many of these elements.
ABOUT DEBORAH AGER
Deborah Ager is author of Midnight Voices (2009), co-editor of Old Flame: The Best of 32 Poems Magazine (2012) and founder of 32 Poems Magazine. She received the Tennessee Williams Scholarship and, later, the Walter E. Dakin Fellowship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She’s received additional fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. In 2010, she founded the Twitter Poet Party that took place on October 24, 2010 with D. A. Powell, Susan Rich, January O’Neill, Kelli Agodon, Collin Kelley, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil as co-hosts. Up to 70 people have participated during one of these online events. If you use Twitter and would like to join the conversation, please follow hashtag #poetparty on first and fourth Sunday nights at 9 pm ET.