Despy Boutris
Self-Portrait as Smoke and Flames

Fire turns the sky sepia. Grass fades
into summer hues. Bees hum around their hive.
The winding road is spattered
with raccoon guts. Disemboweled and skeletal
as the burning branches, as the smoke
shaping into soldiers behind the hills. Miles away,
I watch them lift their swords. Watch this fight
turn deadly—smoke and flames defeating
decay. The smoke billows up from fallen trees,
encircles the sun like a citrus peel.
And the orchard glows golden in this light,
so the soiled plums underfoot look like blots
of dried blood. These smoke tendrils
hover overhead like the bee-swarm,
or like the time I trampled an anthill, watched
the ants erupt like hot lava over my bare feet.
What’s left of the trees? What’s left of the dry grass,
the tumbleweeds? And the barn in Bear Valley,
the one I once helped paint white, bleaching
its planks under the summer sun,
back before the city council realized we needed
to cull all the old trees from these woods,
the woodsmoke staining this world amber.
There’s so much smoke spreading, swallowing
up what moisture remains. How long it’s been
since the last rain. And I want to be this fire: free
to rise like the smoke above. Flames burning
long and bright enough to kill off the old.