“Smoke Gets in My Eyes” by Jeremy Marks

Jeremy Marks


“The other theme is fire.”
—Stephen J. Pyne

I got a call this morning from my father
who said the smoke was so thick over home
that it had come in the form of a brown fog
to make your throat burn or what my sister said
smelled like the apocalypse.
(We’re Jews, so we don’t use
that word on a regular basis.)
I don’t know how we got here,
my father claimed and it was a terrible
shame. Worse, I know he was at least
one thousand klicks from the closest blaze
(in Manhattan they couldn’t see
the top of the Chrysler building).
Currently, I live in Canada where right-
wing papers say the blazes come from bad
forestry not Alberta bitumen, Canadian bacon
and uranium mining.
My wife told me that last night my snores
were so loud they molested her dreams.
All night I sawed away at some log
and she wondered whether my nasal passages
had swelled with ash.
No matter how much light, water, and fertilizer
I use I can never predict how my plants
will do. The drought takes some and bunnies
eat the rest. I have a desert rose that dazzled me
last year with lush green leaves but remains bare
this June.
In all our years together, this has never happened.
My great grandfather knew DDT was a problem.
He was a lifelong Republican even though he took
a position with FDR’s Works Progress Administration
during the Depression.
He grew watermelons in his yard, built a windmill
for clean power and tried to never live in a town larger
than 10,000.
He also killed sparrows by the scores
because he said they were bad birds.
Some folks believe there are fauna
and flora who are sinners and God
(or opposable thumbs) gives them a right
to smite.
His wife loved birds and awaited their return
while wintering among the dim dust of northwestern
Missouri prairie.
I have been out to the town where she expired
Cameron, MO in January when nothing seems
to move save people from their front doors to Chevies
and Fords and through the double doors at chain
I live in a place that still has vast forests.
Hunters go on call in shows and say they should
be allowed to hunt bears in the spring because store
bought meat is far worse
Hunting is sporting while factory farms
commit unspeakable harm.
A bear showed up in a neighborhood nearby
and the city had it shot. People took to social media
to declaim the criminality of summary executions when
government could just do a resettlement.
My neighbors grow tomatoes
and do not like grackles for their noise
and mess. Squirrels keeps chewing the heads off
their tulips.
If you live where there are bears you are advised
not to keep vegetable patches.
My wife comes from a small town where good
dark soil turns to clay about six inches down.
My parent’s yard has the same ‘problem.’
The two places are not quite one thousand
klicks from each other.
My father apologized for his anguished call.
He wanted to know that his son, daughter-in-law
and grandchildren were alright.
We didn’t see each other for nearly two years.
There was a global virus and now catastrophic fires.
I told him he need never be sorry for love.
And then I hung up and lost my voice because
smoke got in my eyes.

from Poets Respond
June 11, 2023


Jeremy Marks: “I wrote this poem after my father called me from the Washington D.C. suburbs and told me the smoke was so thick from the forest fires in Canada, he could not see more than a few hundred feet ahead. I live in Canada where our forests our burning. I grew up in the D.C. suburbs where my peoples’ ears, noses, and throats are aching.”

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