Look: the sky behind the fireweeds
has gone dull, the way a dim lamp
steeps a room in glow. And down
by the stream the small child is playing
in the dirt, her bare feet soot-colored,
her matted hair bobbing as she gathers
stones. It appears to be a shrine
she is building, or perhaps it is a dam,
or perhaps it is simply that she likes
the way the stones change colors
in the shallows, turning darker,
clay-colored, the way memories turn
The single bitternut hickory
near the stream remembers. It is blackened
on one side, the bark scarred and weathered
facing east. The memory of the fire -- older
than the girl -- seeps into the earth, buries
itself in the charred roots, in the waiting
loam. The smell of ash hides itself
in the leaf vein, in the oriole on the limb,
in the tree frog at gathering dusk.
Her father is
standing at the kitchen window, watching.
Everyone says the same thing:
she has her father's seriousness.
They make it sound half like an affliction.
It is true there is a rawness in how
she holds herself tonight, in how
she kneels to place the rocks inside
the stream -- a rawness like peeled fruit,
like skinned potatoes.