Fire Followers

Fire Followers

In the spring after devastating fire
they grow only here on the back of the devil

whispering bells and red maids, golden eardrops
blazing star with its spiky leaves and yellow flowers

and in the scorched canyons harder to hike and even then
for just a few weeks the fire poppy flicks gold notes

Under the pressure of smoke and firestorm and ash
the seeds break open then in the spring surface and bloom

For the only time in a generation or longer
the inclines of Mt Diablo are covered in gold red and purple

Gone in a few years and back to something buried
by what we see as the normal brush and vine and trees

Who knows what seed dormant inside us may burst
into quiet small beauty brought to birth by the worst

that can happen who knows how long it will last
this beauty not normally us and not someone else


15 thoughts on “Fire Followers

    1. Jeff Schwaner Post author

      Thank you! I traveled through those mountains once on a winding trip across the country and back. It’s a beautiful part of the world–lush, rugged and eerie all at the same time in some places.

    1. Jeff Schwaner Post author

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked that line. Imagine a form of life that waits for decades for just the right environmental conditions, and then blooms for just a few weeks. It still blows my mind.

  1. Dana

    I love the last two stanzas, how the poem moves from the description of the flowers to introspection about human nature. “Who knows what seed dormant inside us may burst
    into quiet small beauty brought to birth by the worst” is lovely on its own, as well as with its extension into the next stanza: “that can happen who knows how long it will last
    this beauty not normally us and not someone else.” I also love the last line, the idea of something being neither familiar nor foreign. What is it, if not self or other? The place between the two is an interesting space to explore for a number of reasons.

    1. Jeff Schwaner Post author

      Yeah, that is what caught me about these flowers when I first read about them. Are we kind of like that? We tend to think of our behaviors as continuous or along some visible spectrum of moral or ethical responses to circumstance. But what if that’s not how it works? what if there are behaviors of ours that only bloom under otherwise destructive combination of circumstances and no other time? How do we look at identity then? We may be more like Mt. Diablo than we think. Of course, Dana just said all that much better than I did.

      A note on the origin of this poem–just yesterday I read an article from SFGate off one of the nature-oriented blogs I follow which described the excitement around the blooming of these fire followers across Mt Diablo, which was devastated last summer by wildfire.

      I wrote to Dana, who is one of my favorite poets, and casually threw down a “hey, YOU should write a poem about this, huh” challenge. Dana responded within a couple of hours with a great poem, which (I believe) she has yet to post on her site but which I can say with confidence blows the doors off this poem, and is of course a very different take on the same natural phenomenon.

      So now I guess I’m just casually challenging you to post that poem, eh Dana?

      1. Dana

        I can’t post it. It’s going to be part of my second collection, Crude, which I will only start serializing on my site once I am finished serializing No Sea, Here. I did post it on Facebook, which is where all my new work goes, but you have yet to sign up for an account.

        I am always fascinated by the mind, what it’s capable and (seemingly) incapable of. I like the idea of an ever-shifting sense of identity or a move away from identity entirely. Of course, that’s one of the draws of Buddhism for me—though more and more, I see Buddhists, particularly Western Buddhists, as steeped in an exploration of and fixation on self. I suspect that’s where Buddhism would naturally gravitate under a Western influence, but it’s still disappointing to me.

      2. Jeff Schwaner Post author

        Agreed. And yes, I plead guilty to still being unfacebooky.

        But I do think everyone reading this should check out both your facebook page and your wordpress blog for some great verse.

        Otherwise I will threaten to reblog one of your poetry posts.

  2. Pingback: new work: fire follower | this life, designed ::

  3. Pingback: Bridgewater International Poetry Festival: Day One | Translations from the English

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