“Certain Islands” by Ori Fienberg

Ori Fienberg


I’ve only seen a wild fire once, and it was probably too small
to count, just a spontaneous outburst in a grove of gnarled

white spruce on a powder keg of brittle needles, raising a gray
flag high. But who knows? Maybe it was careless campers (to

err is only presidential) or perhaps it was intentional. Certainly
there was a thrill in watching it burn, from a canoe, gliding across

a broad lake, while a few drops of water sprayed on each stroke.
It’s easy to hold a peninsula on fire in view, but harder to see the

forest for the trees, to imagine the fire everywhere, the exhaust
rushing unavoidably into the lungs of the earth. At the same time

all the men I knew growing up were islands of sorts, unclaimed or,
not for sale, far too vast to put a price tag on certain principles;

now I fear some men are islands who could burst into flames at any
moment, not like lava from a volcano thought dormant, but the sort

we’re building every day from the tinder we share with each other:
papery birch barked opinions, crisp conspiracies of undergrowth

where a spark can start a blaze so fast that smoke is only released
later, like thunder from a far-off lightning strike. I wish we knew now,

what we know now; I wish a satellite shot of a carbon cloud could
cause as much fear as the rotting body of a moose in a place that

will never burn. A political candidate must shake hands with every
person in NH to get their vote: it’s so hard to trust or believe what

everyone tells you, till you row the length of Lake Winnipesaukee
and lose the sun in pink water, till you can feel it in your own lungs.

from Poets Respond
August 25, 2019


Ori Fienberg: “There are so many small men and small conflagrations right in front of us, that absurd speculation around the sale of an enormous island territory can monopolize our attention for days. Meanwhile, the Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate.” (web)

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