The Fires Are Not Yet Contained
When one hits the bridge near Richmond, we pack two days’ worth of clothes and a few of everyone’s sentimental objects. I pull goddesses and gods from my altar leaving stones as place holders, pack photographs, books necklaces, steel plates from Vile Parle, arrange them in a blue suitcase knowing if the fire hits the refinery we may return to nothing. We take refuge at an adopted grandma’s friend’s apartment in San Francisco that is saturated with scented candles, upsetting my sinuses. It’s Diwali. I wear a salwar kameez as a token new year’s gesture. When the smoke clears, I walk to the park with a journal and no writing implement. My sister meets me, buys me a golden pen. After returning the things we packed remain in suitcases waiting in stacks to be put back on walls or tables— at first as precaution and then as habit. I talk to a friend in my old countryside neighborhood who evacuated her home for weeks. I keep looking at the things around my place now she says. It’s remarkable how little they matter How few I need. It is that way afterwards, soothing as an intact home might be; most things are just things that do or don’t complement the reds and purples painted on the walls.
Rainstorm/ the Calm before the Fires
lightning sears periwinkle sky above palms and other trees crows fly into a thick willow leave the shelter of the willow it is 10:59 in the morning; the morning glories are wide open pausing in the novelty of thunder storm after a two-day heat wave the Bay Area feels like Miami like Atlanta like Mumbai humidity thick on my skin the day cracked wide open my homelands merging into one
Speak of displacement. Speak of where you go when the smoke thickens and enters even through double-paned windows even through masks. Speak of the way you try to frame leaving, how you handle the perpetual tremors of uncertainty through arms, back, chest belly. Speak of how your forms slowly unravel of how everyone is unraveling, how making space for work while the children are fighting grows harder and harder, how it feels when the family sleeps in a car, how packing out in the mornings every day never grows easier, how you switch between smoke masks and pandemic masks and how not everyone around you wears masks. Speak of how even when facing red cedars or Douglas firs or Japanese maples or wisps of cirrus clouds over lilting estuaries as tides rise, your page stays blank even when you have a pen poised, not knowing anymore what meaning to make or when it will be over or whether it will be over in a way that will let you be still again.
This time, we are aloft between two Douglas firs in a treehouse with a loft bed and we are talking while the children sleep in structures below, talking as the heat presses our skin despite the dark. I pull open a window to cool our skin despite our fears of the bats who, we’ve been told, live in the branches. The bats swoop swiftly past us at dusk as we sit below, reminding me of when I used to walk at dusk back when I lived in this valley tracing its curves with my feet on both sides of Green Valley Road, back when I lived with my old roommate for whom we are treehouse sitting now. With- in seconds, my partner worries she smells smoke, so I shut the window without any worries despite the drought, wondering why anyone would make a fire in the dry midsummer, wondering but not worrying until the light of a vehicle crosses the ceiling– We search for clothes and light as we hear a man shout: Fire! We climb down two ladders, wake the children and tell them: Fire We call our friends, search in vain for their shy cats, pack our important items, search and find our friend’s truck keys load the dog into the trunk and figure out how to use those keys– My partner drives, and I navigate down the dirt road, show her where to curve past the old oak, navigate around the pond, emerging to open gate after gate and staring each time at the Milky Way, which rakes open my memory of this place where I walked countless times through mist or through puddles of stars, where I still feel at home, the fields and night sky suffusing me with familiar wonder as we evacuate from the smoky night.
I am inclusive like the fires, but rather than singeing or consuming I allow everything into and through me turning me to ashes from the inside.