July, the Great Basin – George Perreault

July, the Great Basin

A season of dry lighning, names
flaring haphazardly: the Gold Fire,
Rock Farm, then Canyon River;
two years ago the Whaleback burned
to the edge of Eagle Lake, ephemerals
have returned, grasses, scrubs are next.

They opened my sister back East, glued
up the lung, said stage four, and so
without treatment, maybe six months –
efficacious drugs? add another Christmas.

But not six weeks out she can’t
breathe, down to six hours as she
holds for her oldest son and his wife
and a granddaughter named Vera
after the maiden aunt she slept with
all those early years where
she woke bleeding, terrified
because no one had ever told her
how these things work.

The kid’s in the air from Colorado
where he prescribes burns against
the likes of the Hog Fire, north of here,
five thousand acres gone, zero
containment, the air full of ashes.

Three thousand miles away and I can’t
sidestep the plague’s restrictions, find
a plane in time, but she nods okay,
harboring her breath, luminous
with equanimity, a jade cicada,
the trees here buzzing with them
while north the ponderosa explode
in what passes for death.

George Perreault has published in journals and anthologies in the U.S. and elsewhere.  
He is currently working on two chapbook projects.   

Photo: “Umpqua National Forest Fires, 2017” by Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region