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Poem From Smoke

Already so long ago,

we drove to Oregon

in summer, gawking

at the raw umber stalks

of corn that spanned

an expanse of heat-rot

in the country’s gut,

dead yet stood up,

radio towers hanging

onto the blighted sky

in a bombed-out city.

Each new Spring asks

the question of when,

not whether. Smoke

blurs the horizon

as it draws closer,

but we have no answer

when we have no choices.

We will run and hope

whatever is left behind

will find a way to us. 

This is what it will be:

subtle then sudden,

slow then absolute.

In shock, without

solace, who will be

able to name the first

things we did?

The garden plot

you tilled by hand

when we were young.

The lyre I played,

carved from a dead

tree I can’t name.  

Those ways we now feel

will become old ideas:

the leisure we cherish;  

what it’s like to lie still

in the heat; sweat

tasting sweet in warmth,

not scorch. Such things

will have no meaning

when we’re fleeing.

We’ll forget our words

for river because only

canyons will remain.

Maybe by then we’ll

have new words for

lost things; maybe

a new way to grieve

what we’ve forgotten.  


Ethan Milner is a writer an a licensed clinical social worker in Oregon, providing psychotherapy at a school for youth with special needs. His work has most recently appeared in Yes, Poetry, Memoir Mixtapes, and The Scores (UK). He can be found tweeting @confident_memes and at ethanwritten.com.