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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Cracks in the Sky

By: Dick Altman

Northern New Mexico

The day lightning rode clouds

from one end of the horizon

to another / was the day

we in high country never

thought would come.

Better to have cracks of fire

in the sky than months of fire

ripping to pieces maps

of human habitation going

back hundreds of years.

I imagine a hissing sigh

of relief / as the still simmering

desert plain opens its arms

to a storm / as droplets turn

to steam / steam into cloud.

Humans believe they can ride

into ground a bucking bull

of wildfire / only to be thrown

off its blackening back again

and again / bleeding for rain.

Wind / greedy and merciless /

feeds the bull / grows its horns

big enough to gore mountains

of forest and valleys of farm /

range and glade.

We are little match / in truth /

for the bull / which recognizes

no enemy / no god or goddess /

no libation to slow its appetite /

nothing to moderate its rage.

Except tides of tears rivering

from the sky / while lightning

rides clouds from one end

of the horizon to another /

and Taurus escapes starward.


Dick Altman writes in the high, thin, magical air of Santa Fe, NM, where, at 7,000 feet, reality and imagination often blur. He is published in Santa Fe Literary Review, American Journal of Poetry, riverSedge, Fredericksburg Literary Review, Foliate Oak, Blue Line, THE Magazine, Humana obscura, , The Offbeat, Haunted Waters Press, Split Rock Review, The RavensPerch, Beyond Words, newversenews, Sky Island Journal and others here and abroad. A poetry winner of Santa Fe New Mexican’s annual literary competition, he has in progress two collections of some 100 published poems. His work has been selected for the forthcoming first volume of The New Mexico Anthology of Poetry, to be published by the New Mexico Museum Press.

"The birth of the poem began with New Mexico’s Hermit’s Peak Fire, at five-hundred square miles, the biggest wildfire in the state’s history. After eight weeks, it was still smoldering. What was supposed to be a controlled burn went rogue when the Forest Service, despite high wind warnings, ignited the burn anyway.

I live 20 miles from the fire. I’ve seen the smoke, ingested the smoke, couldn’t open a window, since day one. We’ve had no spring—which is to say, no rain for months. Look outside, and all you see is a tinderbox. Gusts of 50-to-60 miles an hour blew night and day. Firefighters couldn’t keep up.

Which brings us to Cracks in the Sky. The title came to me as I stood on our portal (patio in most other parts

of the country) as the season’s first, and desperately needed, thunderstorms swept through the region. Lightning encircled me. Not the vertical kind, but great ear-splitting horizontals. And not just horizontals, but jagged tears of light, ripping across the bellies of clouds.

I could’ve laughed in celebration, but found myself overcome. Wind and drought conspired to feed a fire that refused to go out. The wildfire bull simply could not be contained—the metaphor arising from the fire’s stubbornness, despite all efforts to smother it. Except for tides of tears, season’s first rain storm, that enabled firefighters to finally lasso the burn under control. Three days after the storm, the poem was accepted for publication. It was still warm to the touch."


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