Forest Fire, Viewed from the Kanawha Valley
Above a roofline of wires and gnarled shingles,
a faint yellow dawn. I lounge on my porch
over coffee, in a slum on the West Side
of a capital city with a gold-leaf cupola.
All night long, brush exploded in darkness, fire circled hills
in nervous flares. Small wild animals—
coyotes, squirrels—scurried for swamps,
for muddy traces and ancient runs.
Down here, ash settles on windshields, a powder from which
the last trace of weight, the last wet
burden of life has been burnt—and a mustard light
scours shadows from the bruise-blue
depths of the night. I lower my cup to the floorboards,
the scabbed layers of paint, grab lunch, pull
the door softly, listen for the latch, the dull
metal syllable in the wide morning silence.
Drive west from my alley into the mist lifting slowly,
like a shawl from the silty shoulders
of the Kanawha. Then skirt the plaza
and the new mall, where the brass foundry
used to be, cross over the sunlit belly of the brown-
green flow, ease into the rush. All of us
running late, fretting behind tinted glass,
surviving in a valley while mountains burn.
Driving downhill, seeing small busted homes
through layers of fog; old cars on the grade,
wheels turned to the curb; and further downhill,
fog changes to rain.
Or maybe another hill,
Diamond Heights, where a friend goes insane,
drinking too much, arguing the long rainy night,
and what you couldn’t see coming, the slash,
the pink layers of flesh. Then heading for the ER,
two drunks, the tank on empty.
What shelters you
from those days? You learn, little by little,
to trust in the sweep of it all from the small
things held, from a kindness once given
you had to return.
The hills, back then:
cement blocks, bricks left in front yards;
plywood stacked against wet stucco walls;
but what you couldn’t see coming—as you
coasted downhill through layers of fog
and came to the bottom and stuck out
your thumb—was that a car
stopped for you in the pelting rain.
David Salner has worked as iron ore miner, steelworker, machinist, bus driver, cab driver, longshoreman, teacher, baseball usher, librarian. His writing appears in recent issues of Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Salmagundi, Beloit Poetry Journal, North American Review, Nashville Review, and many other magazines. He is the author of Blue Morning Light (2016, Pond Road Press) and is working on a novel about the sandhogs who built the Holland Tunnel.