My father weighed a little less than at birth.
I carried him in both hands to the pines
as October brought the burning season.
When I unscrewed the urn, bone-chaff and grit
streamed out, with their gunpowder smell.
I remembered the sulphur hiss of the match –
how he taught me to breathe on the steeple of logs
until the kindling caught, quickening flames.
That night, in sleep, I saw the forest clearing
by the moor’s edge, and the ring of his ashes.
A skirl of smoke began to rise –
bracken curling, a fume of blaeberry leaves.
Ants broke their ranks to scatter and flee,
and a moth spun ahead of the fire-wind.
I took the path over the heath at a run.
A voice at my shoulder said, “You’ll inherit fire.”
And through the smoke I glimpsed a line of figures
on the hillside, beating and beating the heather
as the fire-front roared towards them.
A volley of shouts: “Keep the wind at your back!”
My grandmother threshing with a fire-broom,
Dad hacking a firebreak. My stillborn brother, now grown,
sprinting for the hollow where the spring once flowed,
the whole hill flaring in the updraft.
And there: a girl, running for the riverside –
she wore my face, the shade of ash.