George Keithley

Building a Fire

Wind thrashes the trees. At the near

edge of the clearing the camp dogs

cower, won’t approach. Though the guide

changed his shirt his boots reek of blood.

Stooping beneath the trees, rising,

circling with a close, level stride,

women collect the deadfall—all

of it—armfulls bristling, brittle.

Two walking together bring in

three limbs, stout, shattered, for the axe.

In the hour when the wind is down

at last, before the coming dark,

they construct the tinder pile, boughs

broken to size, latticed. Each tier

settled across its broader base,

skeletal, unlike a house. Now

they lay the fresh-cut logs over

the kindling. Night is falling when

their work, woven of wood and air,

is touched with a fluttering torch.

Wild River

In a world that thrives

without eternity

bells ring—

tongues sing—

oars swing—

Let the tom-toms

thrum! thrum!

to the roar

of open water—

Your soul

is a wild river

that seeks the sea.

George Keithley’s epic book-length poem The Donner Party was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection that has been adapted as a stage play and an opera. Song in a Strange Land won the di Castagnola Award of the Poetry Society of America; his sequence of poems about Galileo, The Starry Messenger, was adapted as a staged production with chorus and chamber orchestra. His most recent collection, Night’s Body, won the 2013 Nautilus Book Award for Poetry. His poems have also appeared in the New York Times, American Poetry Review, Harper’s, New Letters, Kenyon Review, and other publications. He lives in Chico, California.

— posted January 2016

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