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.
In a world that thrives
Let the tom-toms
to the roar
of open water—
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.