Elegy After the Wildfire

After Caroline Tsai

I understand delusion:
what it means to smoke plume.
How it rises and rises into
dusk orange bleating neon
traffic lights—electric and strange.
Then sirens, how the thunder
never cleared the horizon.
Then radios, how the dragging
tunes of summer painted the air
so dense and syrupy.
Then tomorrow, how the heartbeat
puked ash and car exhaust
into vermillion sunset.
So maybe I loved a boy who
charred and smoldered.
So maybe I loved a boy who
smelled like grass and gasoline.
So maybe I loved a boy who
kissed blackened air into my lungs,
blew it up my nose, into my heart.
It is not a metaphor when I say
this town is hallucinogened
by coal-oil chandeliers,
the way my tongue melts into the
shape of his mouth,
the way my breath melts into the
shape of his lung.


Mother fills the canvas with the miracle of birth,
fresh placenta spilling across black watercolor swirls.
Naked nuns dance around the gridded hospital like
the fine line separating heaven and earth,
the human inside divided by appearance—silent.
To lead with pointillist strokes,
it’s best to remain close to the eyes,
jazz in focus, talentless saxophone.
The shapes in front deviate in all directions.
Frightened eyes have reached the end.
Undulating, the unprobing frame suggests a ship
adrift on an undulating sea.
There’s no point of reference, no mapping.
Each buoyant form sends shockwaves across the night
and consternation into the realm of sight.
In this context, the most telling detail
is the bride’s wedding ring.
Fusing moonlight and air, her body gazes
back toward the hidden source of illumination.
It’s a promise unfulfilled, a speech
whose content was deemed unimportant.
Harmony beneath the word: as it stands, there is
no history, no title, no context.
It’s the women that are lost in translation.
Drawing from myth, dream, and
this page’s patina of darkness.
Two distinct women in constant motion
open the locked gates, each stealing away a corner,
tearing soaked canvas to shreds.