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Wednesday, August 26, 2020


by Buff Whitman-Bradley

Trees scorched by the L.N.U. Lightning Complex fire, the second largest in state history, in Napa County, Calif., on Monday. Credit: Ian C. Bates for The New York Times, August 24, 2020

The forecasters tell us
More electrical storms
Are on the way
Like the ones last week
That started the fires
Burning the countryside
All around us,
Filling our air with toxic smoke,
And forcing us
To remain indoors
Where I sit right now
At the front window
Watching the trees across the way
Sway and bend
Ever more energetically,
Like atheletes warming up
For the Big Game.

On a normal summer day
Our street is a pedestrian throughfare,
Walkers pass by
From morning to night
In ones and twos,
Skateboarders, bikers,
Families with dogs,
But today, no one is out
No one to wave and smile
Back at me
Standing in the front window,
No passersby to shrug
And grin forlornly
About the fix we’re in.

We are packed
And ready to evacuate
Should the predicted storms
Ignite a fire on the mountain
That could rampage
Down the forested slopes
And threaten our community
With incineration.
We wait.

This is big. This is Weather.
This is Climate.
This is the whole interconnected
Systemic enchilada
Recalibrating on a planetary  scale,
Because, well, we know why...

The little girl who lives across the street
Is standing in her large front window
And when she spots me
She waves excitedly
As she always does,
And as I always do
I respond with equal delight.
A father and son
On roller skates and scooter
Zip past in the street,
The first I’ve seen today,
A fire truck drives by
In no particular hurry
As if to reassure the neighborhood
That attention is being paid,
The wind has died down,
The trees have ceased their calisthenics
For the moment at least,
But I remain at my post
On high alert.

Buff Whitman-Bradley's poems have appeared in many print and online journals. His most recent books are To Get Our Bearings in this Wheeling World and Cancer Cantata. With his wife Cynthia, he produced the award-winning documentary film Outside In and, with the MIRC film collective, made the film Por Que Venimos. His interviews with soldiers refusing to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan were made into the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. He lives in northern California. He podcasts at: .