Prescribed Burn

Among the granite stones that resist charring
And the bones of cattle and deer long since dead,
The fire left in its wake the stiff rind of a fox snake—
A black, rough-scaled seraph—
And a singed pheasant nest boasting three eggs,
Blistered but still mottled, resting in triadic silence
Like a burned trinity defying fiery violence.

This year I thought I’d burned the west field early enough
To avert calamity. Nothing to threaten
Except the two-foot thatched ant mounds,
But the thatching ants and their mounds,
We all know, are impervious to apocalypse.

I like a well-ordered burn—a prescribed fire
As they call it. How one’s friends gather early
In the morning—coffee, shovel, and gossip in hand—
Then station themselves around one’s field,
A check against whimsy and caprice, against surprise;

How the pale smoke of a grass fire, the color of maize,
Swells and surges upward like Constable’s clouds; how after the fire,
Surveying the still-smoldering scape, you feel
As Prometheus must have felt: triumphant, a creator,
A benevolent thief that made off with the gods’ secrets.

But this year I got it wrong. A week early?
Two weeks? Two days? I will never know, nor know
Why after all of these years of well-ordered grass fires,
Of prescribed burns, I fell well short as a giver of life.

About the Author:
Kevin L. Cole lives in East River South Dakota, the region that inspires most of his poetry. He is also at work on a novel and his second play. He has received an NEA for his short fiction and poetry, and he has been an NEH fellow.