Breathing Fire by Asha Gowan

Breathing Fire
Asha Gowan

(Pennsylvania wildfires, south of Pittsburg, March 2017)

I walked a wide circle yesterday
on a Carolina one-way thin road
in worn down sneakers, searched
past gated driveways, through gardens,
and backyard boats, for a place to sit
while striders skipped ripples by the lakeshore.
Mist teasing on the smoky air,
the water is not free, cordoned off
by private property.

The din of a thousand
non-native birds crowded in oak trees.
I stood beneath falling acorns they stirred.
Anguished calls incited the anguishing of another.
Frantic, inconsolable. Crows glided like vultures
in curious vigil above the gathering. Newcomers.
No territory rights, aliens
in no familiar migratory flight,
banished southeast.

Mothers who lost eggs and young
in charred mountain nests of Costa County
were the loudest, cursing all flame
and its burning fangs. They were stitching
the sky to the trees, as one wounded body,
shifting back and forth, crazed
between limbs and wind.

I’m sorry, I whispered,
and as I violated their space
they raised their voices to a fever pitch.
The birds must think we breathe fire.
How dare I disturb their grieving mothers.
The feathered tempest moved to trees
of other houses. And I wrote a letter
with my breath in sparrow-song and sorrow,
back into the darkening west, praying
rain be the forecast.


Asha Gowan writes poetry and fiction, practices visual art and music, and enjoys long quiet walks with nature.

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