Summer of Fire: poems

INTRODUCTION: Thanks to climate change induced drought conditions across vast swathes of North America, 2015 is turning out to be another Summer of Fire. I’ve lived in British Columbia most of my 55 years and have never seen a fire season as bad as this. The Slocan Valley where I live is shrouded in a cloak of haze that has those with allergies and respiratory issues feeling shut-in and ready to bolt at the first sign of an evacuation alert. Never before have I seen such an eerie haze shrouding our mountain skyline. The sun in early morning shines blood red through a grey curtain, an apocalyptic eye glaring down at us. What used to be a 50-year event for a major fire season has become more like a five-year cycle, or less. The city of Kelowna, BC has been particularly hard hit during the past decade, with major fires destroying homes starting in 2003, again in 2006, and again this year. I have to wonder what future generations will think of us, given that we probably know more about the climate than any generation in history. Yet our political and commercial structures have utterly failed to put the brakes on our carbon output. Will the generations to come loathe the very mention of us, as the generation who knew what was happening yet did nothing? As a poet, my only hope is that they may read these verses and know that there were many of us who resisted the apathy and greed despite our apparent powerlessness to change it.

California’s wildfires have been brutal this year. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Summer of Fire I

British Columbia, 2003

The things to be feared are… the anger and hatred

of powerful men. And injustice joined with power.

—Aristotle, Rhetorics


We went mad for money and power

and the only songs that move us now

are air-raid sirens in the desert.


Terrified eyes and screaming babies

fill the streets of Baghdad

and Vancouver.


The acid stench of civilization rises

like a CEO’s salary

and still we can’t stop.


The invisible hand at our throats

won’t let go—trickle-down lie that leaves

burning holes in everything we touch.


The fish. The water. The trees.

The very air itself, if necessary—ALL of it—

ours to buy, sell or steal.


Yachts chuckle gasoline into the harbor

waiting for cash registers to light up,

the pantomime democracy toothless.


And Western forests dry as soul-dust erupt—

the Voice of God walking

in sheets of molten creation.


Saw blades howl for mills burned to the ground.

Lives curl in fists of ash—

a family’s five-acre dream


black as starless sky. A lone fireman

kneels on smoking Earth and feels

a sound, a voice shuddering from below—


wind tearing sheet metal from a roof—

a grizzly torn from her cubs in a hail of bullets.

Summer of fire, autumn flood, she growls.


This is not spring, and these are not tears.

Thunder cracks a steel wool sky

and our Tonka Town empire washes away,


the daily commute a million-dollar drama

of death on collapsed highways.

And now, the angry spasm relieved,


a winter moon waxes, aurora borealis

pulses farther and farther south,

strange lights glisten on the glacier


and sleep in the valley lies so deep

you can feel it like snow

or sorrow.


©2005 Sean Arthur Joyce

originally published in The Charlatans of Paradise,

New Orphic Publishers, Nelson, BC Canada

ISBN# 1-894842-07-3


Summer of Fire II

—Slocan Valley, August 2015


Driving home through an alien twilight,

news of a continent on fire.

Curtain of haze the internal combustion

of desire. Ash clouds jig past my windshield

where only yesterday moths and dust motes

danced, praying for rain. Dollars devalue

in a shower of sparks and the highway fills

bumper to bumper with homo consumeris,

anxious to join the extinction parade. So be it.

Life goes on, they say, in a billion forms

we’ve never yet seen nor will see

in galaxies only now coming into view.


Ride that aurora borealis breathing fire

across an ember-strewn sky

while you can. Smoke will be your water,

ash your soil. Fire an emanation

from the belly of Unktehi the Water Serpent.*

Life goes on, they say, in a billion forms

that have nothing whatsoever

to do with our genius. So be it.

May the stars shine on in whatever eyes

are there to drink down their love.


©2015 Sean Arthur Joyce


*From the Lakota Sioux legend

About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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1 Response to Summer of Fire: poems

  1. Powerful imagery and deeply touching and troubling insights, Art.

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