Field of Ash
Terror—no other word for it.
A human shriek; the panicked cries of animals tearing through the night.
Out of bed, door flung open and the stench to fill my nostrils—Woodsmoke!
An orange glow on the horizon, above a rising pal.
I gawk; an ash polluted wind runs over me like a harbinger of doom,
Its gritty heat a whisper from hell.
My son behind cries out, “Water! Water! The Well!”
His words like hooks bite and drag me, back from the thoughtlessness of fear.
Heart pounding, arms aching, the water pump too slow.
Buckets splashed upon the thatch and boards, the barn emptied and abandoned.
I scream, I pant, like a madman I claw at my hair.
My daughters sobbing, my son’s angry shouting, my wife with a quilt smothering the ground.
An ember stings my cheek. The fire so hot, so near.
What awe to see the blaze so close! What panic as it consumes my world!
Circled by fire we fight, with quilt, with boot, with sweat and spit.
Losing ground we retreat. Sobbing, praying, huddled we back away, the scorching winds blistering our skin.
A field of ash.
Pale sunlight illuminates this hollow morn.
The brittle ground crunches beneath my naked feet,
Hot embers blistering my skin.
Night falls again.
Stale bread fills our bellies and dusty water sates our thirst.
A second sunrise. No bread this time, only water to keep us going.
The work ahead a staggering feat, and success an unlikely conclusion.
Better it would be I think to perish in fire,
Than to fade slowly in a wilderness of ash.