Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Excerpt from All the Fires of Wind and Light, Maya Khosla


Candlelight skids up the child who sleepwalks with eyes wide.
Airwaves lower than sound or shudder rattle cups
and doors. In her dreams, trees cling to their blood apricots
swollen with the darkness of curfew nights.
Touch one and it explodes. Her father’s vigil is crumpled
by insomnia: was that wind-shift or voices shrilling
above the crack of footfalls beyond view? It is the hour of curtains
jerked from grip. Out there, gloved hands are setting down
landmines the shape of toys. By morning, miles of window glass
lie glittering, chips of sun. A layer of dust on every cup of water.
After the one p.m. car bomb, the front door falls toward her father
as he pulls it open. It is another month. The child’s coat slumped
against a tree. He is searching for her. He wants to tell her
about the bent limbs, the elbows of trunk, the way it leans
against grantic rocks, gestures fortified by nutrients and hope.
Parted clouds brighten a shrike balanced on a stalk. Swaying
back and forth, its body keeps a tempo of hunger against
the valley’s great backdrop strewn with silences.
The slow ache of sky sinking through his search.
Now a chewed-up fruit with her tooth marks. Arrows of distress
scatter like night-birds from the open mouth of falling.
Now wind whistling, a half-shout running through it.

The leader sings it, and all rise. Singing of the hush. Singing of tumult,
of daylight sucked from stained-glass windows. The song like a storm
roaring between past and present, entering each singer as an anthem
of faith, emerging as dirge. Each singer an island, an orphaned
silence, filled. The nine named over and over so all remain with us. The
whispers. The moment the walls turned into paper and shook with
light. The books lying open, the dark drops. Dust bits hanging in a
slant of sun. Late light flooding the floor with color. The light making
contact splitting one irrevocable moment from the next. Now the
song as memory, as the means of counting the vanished one by one
without numbers. Arriving at nine and unable to go beyond. What is
lost, replenished by grace. Each mouth full of words incinerated, yet
carrying on. For none of the extinguished will go voiceless. Mouths
full of vespers will sing of them. A thousand songs. Faces and candles
from here to the horizon, and onward. The hymn multiplying into
a living continent of song. All will continue to sing it. All will rise.
President Obama sang in memory of the nine people who lost their lives in the 2015 Charleston massacre.

In the time of ice, a time before glaciers began retreating
and Mount Everest began losing whole feet
of height to the world’s rising heat, four men walked
carrying a curtained palanquin. Hidden inside,
my grandmother sat with her clutch of sketching pencils,
a sheaf of paper. First light brushed a cold burn
against blue snows miles above touch. They climbed
toward headwaters, boulders the size of cabins.
Closed in where the Ganges River roared
down rapids. Skin of fire and body of darkness
carving canyons into stone flour, silty riches,
and banks full of chestnut trees and edelweiss.
My grandmother steps into the spray. Enters
the blue hallways, the generations of song.
The skirts of her sari balloon out, then cling.
Toes sink into sand. The blue-gold everywhere.
Her teeth are chattering. Thirst and cold become one.
Eyes, head, and hands in prayer. Give me the strength to live
without walls. Mica bits glitter as they fly downstream.

Not long after lightning has rushed down the electric staircase
of its own making, not long after fires five stories tall have
swept up-canyon, a new season the size of pearls begins.
Silences spreading like hands to touch the heads of seedling
and fiddlehead nudging out by the hundreds through ceilings
of soil and ashy debris. Hours as loose as scree firming up in
tender grips.
Here a stand of charred oaks unwraps its storage of gangly
leaves, there a knot of cones thrown open by heat releases
seeds ripe for sun. Currents of brightness are charged from
within. Sunlight plucks at the strings of top branches. Up
at the crown, blackened firs begin again their story of vigor,
edged with new needles. The irresistible music, tinsel-and-
chime notes. Wind nosing close to the buds to receive all the
The burned and crackling world not in shambles. Not gone
to ash and ash alone. Sapsucker, pileated, black-backed
woodpeckers, all join the jig of genetic diversity. All build
from scratch. What do they crave? Riches. Riches hidden in
the wide-open arches rising from gray.

Many of the trees that initially look dead are not. – Chad Hanson

A sweep of brightness raises the mountaintops from sleep.
As if on cue, a rush of breath answers the stuff of ages,
the essentials, lands and gurgling waters awakened
by silence rising once the flames have fallen.
Now you can set down your fears. You can see
the tribes arriving. Sprig by sprig, the forests
unwrapping layers of light. The old and the new, shoulder
to shoulder. Ambers, reds, and greens, following
internal instructions. Lily, lupine, conifer, marking time
in concentric circles, working through their intricacies.
Now the wild ones, with inner eyes drawing
from the Pleistocene, are arriving with the disposition
of their ancients. And the order. Mice, owls, foxes yipping.
Lines of pilgrims with the training, the shape and scents
of paths mapped out. And now the mule deer, the lions.
All along, they knew to arrive. To shift and settle into place,
in a vast machinery of rebirth—tasting the good light,
anticipating the soot on their feet, the unknowns. Listening
for scratchy sounds. A trilling laces the bite of air. Winks of light
catch a tiny pool of dew held in a swordfern’s hollow.
All the looseness of soil, potash, charcoal, crumbly
between the press of finger and thumb, is firming up
in grip-shaped roots steadily descending into darkness.
The air still, the breath of seedlings edging out
of slumber. Close to the treetops, inches of relearning
find their way out of the shadows. New whorls echo
the shape of their burned predecessors. Faith alights
on the sooty drapes covering trees. The birds cling, flash.
Announce the sap, the squirming meats, the great bounty.

To read Why Sonoma County Poet Laureate Wants to Reach Everyone, via The Press Democrat, see here.

To purchase copies of All the Fires of Wind and Light by Maya Khosla, see here.

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