She walks ahead,
dropping matches as she goes.
Grassland is consumed by flames
and when I arrive, all is wasted.
A Swainson’s hawk dives
to scour singed ground,
finding a squirrel left without
the waving brown to blend into.
Another takes a grasshopper
rendered unable to escape
by its blackened wings.
I am forced to follow my mother,
even though the smell of sulfur
pulls my stomach upward into
my throat and leftover air clogs
my lungs, making each step
more difficult to bear.
But under my feet the fire has given
phosphorus for orthophosphates;
black ash has settled. A rattlesnake
crawls over white rock; charred leaves
fall softly from a sky I can no longer see.
Behind me, rich mineral soil. Life will follow
if I can walk slowly, manage the burn,
be the time, make sure the quaking
aspen is left alone and permitted to grow.
And then a flag of kaleidoscopic wildflowers
will unfurl on the side of a hill
behind my daughter