Sunday, June 04, 2006

fire starter

Tess Gallagher: Dear Ghosts
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
One of the advantages of doing some of your growing up in a backwater like the Olympic Peninsula (a ferry ride away from Seattle) is that you know about folks like the poet Tess Gallagher and her dearly departed, Raymond Carver, the way you know about the artsy couple who blow glass down at the end of the block (you know the ones I’m talking about – they live just this side of the Agate Pass Bridge).

So when you’re standing in line at the Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago waiting for Gallagher to sign your copy of Dear Ghosts (and trying not too look too eager), you can (pretend to) be a bit more composed than the gal in line next to you who's shaking her head in wonder (the reading has just wrapped up) and asking: “Have you heard her before? Did you know about her? Oh my God.   Oh.    My.   God.”

But that doesn’t mean you won’t be startled by a tear when she reads a passage like this and you realize just how much it matters that someone takes the time to string together words that mean and sing like these do:

My young fire-starter father
has done his work. The street he leaves
uncoils white plumes scribbling
the damp air; signs of life rising
from the chimneys of the wood-framed houses,
as if each had a comic-book voice for a comic-book
time in which war was going to succeed,
after which an eagle would sift down
into the hemlock, the men would come home
under confetti, and women, laying aside
their welding tools, would again disguise themselves
with aprons. A time in which horrors might
be stopped by the quick fix of war.

My flesh-and-blood father
glances back at the peace of his neighborhood
to which he has added one small, necessary magic: fire.
The lights are going on. Households are stirring.
The sweet wood-smoke nostalgia of democracy
hangs over the town.

Excerpted from Fire Starter by Tess Gallagher – a poem about a job her father held during WWII, starting fires in people’s homes in the early damp dawn of the Olympic Peninsula before he made his way to his day job. Recently published in Dear Ghosts, by Greywolf Press.

1 comment:

litwit said...

How lovely. I would have been the Oh. My. God. girl, by the way.

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