Deborah A. Miranda
HOW TO LIVE IN THE BURNING WORLD
…is it still possible to face the gathering darkness, and say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures, including ourselves, fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world? – Barry Lopez
Tell yourself it’s like sitting at the bedside
of your mother; scorched with cancer,
her hand already almost ash in yours,
her words already smoke so thick
it obscures your vision of a future
without her. You want to look away.
You want to find a cave, drink yourself
into oblivion, sleep while ugliness smolders.
Admit it. You want someone else to tend
the deathwatch. Instead, moisten her tongue
with a sponge; bathe dry skin
with lavender cream; braid her hair
with tender, trembling fingers. Take care
not to pull on knots. Stay in the room:
let the last thing she hears
be your voice, thanking her
for every single time she didn’t
kill you, for the eons she waited
before you realized her brilliance,
her wisdom, all the days she bit
her tongue, let you think you had
the last bloody word.
You aren’t required to love the flames.
But love the burning world.
You owe her that. Fear is no dishonor.
Her fever so hot even metaphors
melt at a touch. Memorize her.
Praise each scar on her body,
beauty ablaze. Pray for a clean
ending, a phoenix purification.
Pray for mercy. Pray for the only thing
that can save us now:
every lesson she ever taught us
about the sweet, bitter grace
In the beginning
she is salt, indigo and jade,
fire and magma.
She is prowl and push.
Land births herself:
eruptions red as first blood
accordion into ridges,
braids and breakage,
until wind and water
cool her ropey coils,
black body baptized,
lifted above the horizon.
Here, God is a seed
sown by chance.
Here, rock is womb.
Fine silvery roots spin
a seedling: world-maker,
queen born of water,
she grows her own
green heart of spines
crowned with golden jewels.
At dawn the songs begin again as if never sung before,
as if the jet stream has not wandered from its path,
the Arctic ice shelf does not melt at accelerated rates,
Sudden Oak Death does not leapfrog across the continent;
Shenandoah Valley songbirds lean into the indigo air
as if two thousand snow geese did not fall from the sky
in Idaho, ten thousand sea lions are not washing up dead
in the Channel Islands, train tanker cars full of chemicals
never crashed into the Kanawah River in West Virginia.
As if California’s Central Valley agriculture is not pumping
twenty-thousand-year-old water out of ancient aquifers
that cannot be refilled. These song warriors pitch morning
as if the territorial prayers of robins keep bee colony collapse
disorder at bay, as if crows stitch each torn morning together
with their black beaks, mockingbirds know the secret
combination of notes that command God’s ear, the low coo
of mourning doves weaves feathery medicine; they persist
as if pine warblers, flash of gold in treetops, coax the sun
up by degrees, as if these musical beings don’t know the word
extinction, as if, knowing it, their silvered melodies insist
like the yellow warbler: sweet-sweet-sweet; little-more-sweet.
-from Altar For Broken Things (BKMK Press 2020), selected by Spring 2022 Guest Editor, CMarie Fuhrman
An enrolled member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of California, poet Deborah Miranda was born in Los Angeles to an Esselen/Chumash father and a mother of French ancestry. She grew up in Washington State, earning a BS in teaching moderate special-needs children from Wheelock College in 1983 and an MA and PhD in English from the University of Washington. Miranda’s collections of poetry include Raised by Humans (2015); Indian Cartography: Poems (1999), winner of the Diane Decorah Memorial First Book Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas; and The Zen of La Llorona (2005), nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. Miranda also received the 2000 Writer of the Year Award for Poetry from the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. Her mixed-genre collection Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (2013) won a Gold Medal from the Independent Publisher's Association and the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award, and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan Award.