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I.i

If you want to change your life burn down your house Before we left for the beach 10/20/91

Ronna took off her rings placing them on the basin to be safe like her other possessions

the hot offshore winds meant it was warm and cool as we waded on the wet sand

through the agitated air a day that was just right Ronna rehearsing her solemn

procession toward me one arm crooked up on her imaginary father's

the other with an imaginary bouquet surrounded by frisbees a day happy enough

to forgive one's own karma forget that of others under a blue sky

which as we returned over the Devil's Slide was divided like a flag

half blue half ominous black the dense smoke a message to speed home

over the Bay Bridge to the miles-wide storm cloud increasing in darkness

fringed with dots of flame until it was almost night headlights the sudden emergency

warning our freeway was CLOSED towards the house where (we did not yet know this)

Cherry our unsuspecting house-mate from Taiwan had just narrowly escaped

through a burning rain of eucalyptus leaves with no more than her stuffed bear

and a few yards up the street eight people burned to death rivulets of metal

from their melted cars over the burned asphalt We were the last to make it through

we heard from one survivor who had jumped in the back of a stranger's pick-up

in the hushed exchanges as we waited for coffee next morning at the bed-and-breakfast

with nothing to do that day but to tell our tales (the woman two doors down

had loaded her car to the roof and now it was too late to go back inside

and find her car keys) tales that were fragments The fourth afternoon

we were taken there in an Oakland police car a wreath where our neighbor died

and the thick layer of ash (Could this be all our books? the stove? the refrigerator?

the two sets of china?) as unpossessed as the Huron potsherds

in the black corner of an autumn field the burnt tiles of that Roman villa --- impossible to explain this

for a world not fully mindful that we all must die In a bravura gesture

of letting-go Ronna took out her key and threw it back to the Devas

we were taken away the three of us crying like ancient warriors

or pre-adolescents dry sobs that since have come back in therapy

divorce my mother's death choked us that week at each glimpse of the naked hillside

as labile as children who have not yet the illusion we are in control

dazzled and shattered in turn by the ominous beauty of say a sunset under rainclouds

from which it was a relief to go back to teaching Pound's tears at Pisa

watching the spider at work the tent-peg's moving shadow the moon through laundry

to the nine-through-fiveness of a twentieth century the unquestioned defense of a self

as if in one week we had lived two different ages two habits of living

the comfort of Culture more easily destroyed than preserved versus Dasein face to face

with its original nakedness Heidegger 291; Safranski 187 the two irreconcilable except when caught off guard

my cheek unexpectedly wet from reading in the Chronicle of Tibetan prayer flags

flapping from the remains of trees San Francisco Chronicle 11/28/91