A poem by Arturo Sarmiento

   “When I came to the States from Mexico,” says Arturo, “my first job was fighting forest fires.  It was a completely new world for me.  No race or skin color.  All you see is people who love nature and want to stop the fire.  I was touched by people telling me thank you, even little kids.    

   “But you can’t just stop a fire.  And it would be very beautiful, especially at night, if not for the pain and sadness and destruction before your eyes.  Mexican guys on our crew called it ‘las lumbres,’ like little fires for cooking, as a way of making the job seem possible.”

   In the last issue we printed “De Las Lumbres” in Spanish.  Here is a translation: “Wildfires.”

                      I

Battered are the bells

Clanging their mutinies

            at the mediocrity of terror.

Not aiming its glance the blaze    

            fires at the mountain.

Its arc is a pain cutting through

            the mouth of the stomach,

Its darts,

Sharpened flames that don’t understand

            the crying need for sanity .

The forest explodes.   

The flames fly lightly, multicolored,

Red in the entrails of the fallen, listing tree,

Bluish in the sunken morning

            in the rale of ravished landscape,     

Dun like the thistles rallying to resist.     

The fire rises ominous.

Two-tongued rage of nature,

Raising its own parallel towers.   

With crushing severity, instigating:

“Let’s go up the green understory.

The new Lord of Obsidian

            wears his fine blacks today.

Let’s fete him as our own allied God,

The moment demands a crown of smoke.”

Its words clothe the breast of twilight

Like a soft seditious wave.

My feet do not move.

They are no soldiers for this war.

 

 

                      II

The wildfire knocks down all hope.

It drags it over searing slopes

            to keep it from reviving.

We hear the smoldering distress

            of those cliffs.     

They shriek like animals at slaughter,   

They melt like pitchy amber.

Witch mating with chaos,

The fire loves you softly.

    Make ready your flight

It tells you are light and fury.     

    Set aside valor and unkept promise

It strikes you with doubt about new urgency

    While you search its words

            for crumbs of truth.

 

 

                        III

Trapped in the messianic remains of its grief,

The morning after

It will come down the slope,

Breathe the hushed damage,

Refuse to settle on the inert ashes.

Pursued for its crimes,

It wants to be golden,

            hallucinogenic and benign,

But, exhausted and gray,           

It will end up being

            the same warm sun as every day.       

 

Translated by friends of Arturo Sarmiento.  “Wildfires o de Las Lumbres,” has won recognition from the Insituto de Cultural Oregoniana. Arturo hosts “Hispanidades” Thursday mornings 9-11 on KMUZ 88.5 & 100.7 FM.