I failed him and he failed me— Together our skinned glance makes a sorry bridge For some frail specter who can't get through. I failed him but maybe it was the lamp that failed, Maybe it was the meal, Maybe it was the potter Who would not intervene, maybe the clay, Maybe the plateau's topaz,
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When a human is asked about a particular fire,
she comes close:
then it is too hot,
so she turns her face—
and that’s when the forest of her bearable life appears,
always on the other side of the fire. The fire
she’s been asked to tell the story of,
she has to turn from it, so the story you hear
is that of pines and twitching leaves
and how her body is like neither—
all the while there is a fire
at her back
which she feels in fine detail,
as if the flame were a dremel
and her back its etching glass.
You will not know all about the fire
simply because you asked.
When she speaks of the forest
this is what she is teaching you,
you who thought you were her master.
Katie Ford is the author of If You Have to Go (Graywolf Press, 2018), Blood Lyrics (Graywolf Press, 2014), Colosseum (Graywolf, 2008), and Deposition (Graywolf Press, 2002). She is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Levis Reading Prize. She teaches creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.