“Fireline” by John W. Evans

John W. Evans


And when I heard the two cabins might burn down
at the same time, on maybe even the same day,
I rooted for the fire. Like many Californians
I followed with great precision and attention 
the interactive, up-to-the-minute digital maps
that showed a progression of devastation past the water’s edge 
of the popular tourist destination
where my ex-wife’s family
had leased summer cabins since the 1920s, 
where even that spring they had gathered to enjoy 
the beautiful, pristine wilderness
of land the state said belonged to no one.
It was a technicality, that
outrageous claim renewed every ten years
by legacy, a claim I had once enjoyed
in an elaborate festival of coming together
we called a marriage: ten years,
then somehow faster and less forgiving
the controlled burn of divorce
that took it back. It only took a few months 
to reach the woods and the lake. 
The second cabin was half the size of the first 
and much closer to the fireline.
All it had to do was catch
one spark near the composting toilet
and the surroundings cabins would tremble. Unfair,
that spark that every day kept not catching,
as fist-sized embers crowned the trees.
It was the old growth. I knew they’d fight the hardest.
I had fought against it for years, the impossibility 
we might still love each other. We might reclaim together 
the thing she did not want me to have. So
I imagined it myself. Every day the fire took a little more: 
Great-Grandma Pummie’s game trophies,
Uncle Chum’s Turkish rugs, Puck’s first editions,
all swept up into the pyro-cumulus and out across state line,
with every last remnant of these families and what they cherished.
But the redwood decks and lead-glass windows, 
the rockfalls and surrounding acres of old-growth forest
hung in, as sturdy as my dog’s chin on my knee.
He watched me watch the screen. When it was time
to walk, the sky had changed to orange, then blue. 
Then, the wind shifted, capricious and weary of the granite. 
The people returned. Their cabins were there. 
In the city around the lake bears had broken in
and filled their bellies
with syrup and thawed steaks,
an early hibernation, a carcass every few yards
stuck in the mud with singed or infected paws. 
Who is left to love what is gone 
if it belongs to no one else;
who dares warm his hands over the ash
or rub his chest with the spite-tongued black, 
murmuring, Mine, still mine. You do not belong to someone else.

from The Fight Journal


John W. Evans: “I wrote the poems in The Fight Journal to make sense of an experience about which I felt strongly biased: my divorce. I wanted to recognize the humanity of all involved on the page because this was something I struggled to do in real life. I hoped to find closure, healing, and an answer to two questions. Why had my marriage failed? How had I been complicit in that failure? Adrienne Rich’s ‘From An Old House in America’ was the formal model for the long title poem. Marta Tikkanen’s ‘The Love Story of the Century’ was a precedent for writing about these dynamics. Both poems are personal favorites.” (web)

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