In October, 2017, wildfires ravages Northern California, destroying 8,400 structures, and leveling the homes of family, friends and neighbors. The material, spiritual and psychological impacts of those fires are still unfolding. This piece was written the week of the fires, as the magnitude of the damage became clear.

‘…And then it all burned.’
She says over steaming mussels
In a candle and cloth hideaway
on the rocky part of the California coast
a confetti light grazing the inner rim of her eyelid,
and her red-please-by-the-glass Sangiovese

She moves gracefully
A streamlined gesture then a pause
Laying the linen in her lap
Lifting an inquiring eyebrow
Offering me water first
before refilling her own

There’s a small scar on her neck
just above the collarbone
And laugh lines where her lip color has bled a little
Her thick white cotton shirt is open to the third button
Revealing a plum-sized amulet of tiger’s eye and gold

….And then it all burned.
I didn’t know what to take.
My grandmother’s painting.
A box of papers, old pictures.
Warm clothes, a tent, blankets.
Stuff for the dog.

For a single moment it’s that night again
When the fires ravaged us block by block
Winds whipping the chaparral
Our neighbors died in their pool
The old growth timbers fell onto them
huddling together in the dawning light

The flames ate the weaving, the painting,
the carving, the writing, the planting
the art that was the old life
Consumed the places we danced, fought, loved
Rendered my child homeless
Remade us each forever

And so it goes, always
the encapsulation of infinite moments and many years
into a single diminishing phrase
I made this book
I earned a PhD
My wife had cancer
I took a company public
I raised four children
I loved him like that

You don’t have to tell me what happened exactly
A cloud of your own silent song surrounds you
You’re garlanded with a compassion common to those who have lost
Badged with an indifference to possessing
The poem of your life is tattooed on your forehead

Your eyes tell me that you have looked at another with love
Your hips say that you have danced
I have decided already, if you will have me
that I could wake up with you
for the next ten thousand mornings

We take anise cookies in brown paper
and walk to the end of the dock
It is high-tide and we drape our feet into the cold waters
Awakening the bioluminescent swarm
The whole world sparkles now

I thank the unknown things that have happened
and made you into this
woman with the strong back and gentle eyes
Who has laid her head onto my shoulder
Pulled the fleece around us both,
Who holds her gaze wide open
to face the winter sea

Christine Marie Mason is an American author and poet. Her work includes Indivisible (2016), Love in the Face of Everything (2017), and the upcoming Bending the Bow (2018). You can find out more about her at www.XtineM.com.