The Fires Are Not Yet Contained (and other poems)

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

Evacuation #4

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.  

Evacuation #5

June 2021

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.


  • Shilpa Kamat is a poet and educator currently residing in Northern California. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and has been published by a range of magazines from Strange Horizons to Willowherb Review. Her chapbook, Saraswati Takes Back the Alphabet, was a finalist for the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize and was published by Newfound.

  • The Union Porcelain Works was one of the most important porcelain manufactories in America during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and the most significant firm in the New York area. Although it maintained a successful bread-and-butter production of hotelware, its fame derives from the hire of German-born sculptor Karl L. H. Muller in advance of the nation’s Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, for which he designed a large number of major exhibition pieces, several of which are in the Museum’s collection. Their display elicited "admiration from the delicacy of the ware and shape, and for beauty of design," in the critical press of the day. From the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art