Poetry: “Before the Fire-Scarred Land”

by Christopher Raley

Oracle speaks in the living room while wind
beats huddled houses with her fury.
Thelonious: Again now tell us of peace you find
in misery’s laughter, humiliation’s pride.

But can you speak beauty as bare-skin light of dawn
unveils valley parchment its smear of sight?
Or is yours only for laughter at the south road
shining its golden rush between winter fields brown and fallow?

The river has a mischief too, its course slowly
to bend and upset orchards carefully squared.
Far hills like wrinkled canvass spread their jest below
blue silk torn of edge and splotched by the white hand.

Are there any here you can voice
through the urban angles of your ironic malice?
The oracle has no need but a faint breath of harmony.
For he too will rise east—and the fire-scarred land

where pines stretch charred bones for no song or shade,
and manzanita are the frozen black frenzy
of muttering old women who’ve only themselves left to hate.


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