Claudia Gary

Mountain Fire

"Sunday, November the 5th, 1961, was hot and windy in Los Angeles.... As dawn approached on Monday the 6th... Fire Station 92 [received] a teletype from headquarters, noting the day would be considered a 'high hazard' day in the Santa Monica mountains...."
--Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society

Who is this with a garden hose
on gravel roof, watering wind,
ignoring pleas from firemen?
Oh yes, he knows,

but can't stop. Neighbors' houses broil
to concrete slabs with chimneys,
melted-down pipes, dead brush and trees,
eroded soil.

Wild Santa Ana wind has tossed
burning wood shingles, leveling
castles, condos. Leave everything
or you'll be lost.

Later in the newsreel,
a mother steers her family's car
down Roscomare, and there we are,
too scared to feel.

An offer on the radio
says "Stay for free at Disneyland!"
Mother and daughter drive and plan,
deciding No.

Allowed back, they are lucky: See?
Fire has spared their modest home.
The child's toy bin contains a poem.
Unscathed -- or isn't she?

Tomato Harvest

Imagine after this to turn and ask--
my car already packed, the tense farewells
pronounced and mispronounced, eyes filled and emptied--
to ask, "Is it all right to take a few
tomatoes as I leave?"

So they stay on your counter echoing
our argument inside their bright round skins,
resounding with their sugar, acid, salt,
reckless asymmetry within a glow
that waits to be devoured.

Hours away, I picture you at breakfast:
You choose a ripe tomato that you've grown,
a knife you've honed, a plate, a cup, a glass,
all orderly today as any day
along your handmade table.

Your whetted knife will start the flood of juice.
Your vines will live another month or two
and keep you busy watering, tying, picking,
with no need to imagine anything
until the night they freeze.


Claudia Gary is author of Humor Me (David Robert Books, 2006) and several chapbooks. A 2014 finalist for the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award and a 2013 semifinalist for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, she writes, edits, sings, and composes (tonally) in the Washington D.C. area. Her poems appear in anthologies such as Forgetting Home (Barefoot Muse 2013) and Villanelles (Everyman Press 2012), as well as in journals internationally. Her articles on health appear in The VVA Veteran, VFW, and other magazines. For more information, see http://www.pw.org/content/claudia_gary


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