“I light / a small fire in the rain.” —Galway Kinnell
That line by Kinnell, from one of my favorite books, his amazing “Book of Nightmares” blazed off the page when I first read it as a young man. I’ll never forget how that small sentence, how those two lines felt so resonant, ringing and reverberating beyond the words, other-world reaching. It blazed for me, like a philosophy, that sentence. I read it, re-read it aloud. And have never forgotten it.
Life is suffering, says the first Noble Truth. The rain falls. The cold and the dark inherent in the world, if momentarily gone, are returning. But I can light a small fire. And I love small fire, that crucial diminished modifier letting us know that anything we ignite—in the passing moment—is a blaze that can warm ourselves or others. Maybe for you it is a breath. A prayer. A smile. A kindness toward a stranger.
As my life went on, this sentence, this philosophy, stayed with me, and for me the small fire has been the poem. They’ve been life-saving, these little blazes. Whether made by others—how they’ve called me toward them, given me haven and warmth despite the dark. Or, even moreso, the small fires I’ve learned to make myself. There’s nothing else I’m good at, really—but this stacking of words, the tinder of heart and breath, this thing I can make and watch ignite, and, if I’m lucky, share with others. A thing that another person, or a small group of people can huddle around.
“Write, for the darkness is coming,” my mentor Tom Lux signed off on an email to me more than once, more than a decade ago. Though not necessarily an optimist, I always figured it was just a touch of Lux’s gallows humor. But here we are. In the coming dark that’s been here always, and growing.
So–what can a poem do? A touch? Some small gesture? What light, what love passes from hand to hand? Can these small fires grow—one toward another—merging? I believe so. One hundred percent. I’m not sure I’d keep writing poems if I didn’t believe they make a positive difference in the world. The ripple, the flicker that spills toward wave, toward inferno. How all the small things grow, and overcome—from one being, one soul, to another. Glance by glance, poem by poem. If hate is a mountain, here comes the sea.
Throughout this ugly year I’ve been writing. A lot. I’ve finished one manuscript, years in the making, called CAGE. Another collection has strong wings toward completion, and I’m halfway into a third. Gathering sticks for these small fires wherever I can find them, I’m walking deeper and deeper into the old and somewhat terrifying woods of my psyche, and out into bright reaches I’ve never seen. It’s all I can do against the dark.
Here’s a smattering of recent poems. I hope they reach you–and I hope that any warmth or light they offer–you carry to another, in a way you know how. Stay safe. Mask up. Trust in the love and light–only ever briefly dimmed. Thanks for reading these poems, and supporting ALL poets.
Come we swarm to the sun-warmed gold.
Come we to the wood, come we drawn
to hum and hold. Come we lonely. Come we low.
Come we pray to key and scale, to homilies
of thrum. Come we sonata. Come we want.
Come we to bowed head and scroll, come we
spiral round the blooming bud. Come we curl
and thrill. Come we pulse of the bow’s slow lick.
Come we flow. Come we tease the hem
of purfling, come we drone and purr. Come we
down long neck and waist. Come we finger,
come we peak. Come we glide vibrato. Come we
itch to crest and spill. Come we tongue and blossom.
Come we solo, come we cell. Come we call
and follow. Come we cavity. Come we dive.
Come we honey stomach. Come we nectar melody.
Come we alive. Come we to the F-hole gates,
come we to the sweet dark hive. Come we
crescendo. Come we full and hollow. Come we
whole and home. Come we come we honeycomb.