To Build a Fire

Tristan Harward

That most human instinct:
I have made fire.

I smile at people who don’t know how,
Long ago having given up on teaching.
They have to find it for themselves
Anyway. Only fathers can teach it,
As mine did. 
Even then, you don’t really know 
Until you make your own.

This one is maybe a hundred or two in.
Who can say? You don’t count fires.
Though there is something special about
A morning one, ideally sparked by the embers 
of a majestic one the night before;
But, the people last night were the ones
I was talking about earlier.
They had fun, I hope, but left the logs
Whole and barely charred,
Waiting in the stone pit.
I find their matches and various bits
Of paper strewn about. No kindling.
Coffee is hot. Time to finish the job.

It starts easy enough, with a pyramid
Atop shredded up paper coasters.
They catch immediately and flare up,
But there’s a hesitance as the first wood
Decides if it’s going to go.
A chain reaction picks up from there
And the little cone of sticks burns
Like it’s got something to look forward to.

Watching the changes is the best part:
It picks up, it burns down, you add fuel.
At one point the triangular proto-fire
Falls down and orange coals scatter.
That’s when you change strategies,
Add more structure. Two by two,
Build a house, log cabin style—

It’s life, of course, the fire. Not only alive
But a little meditation on what life is.
Starts small, burns bright, etc. You get it.
Fires don’t keep secrets.

It hits the middle part next,
When you’re not sure if you’ve done right;
If the structure will support the next stage.
The wood is wet and it hisses as it
Roasts and fails to burn—
As much as it wants to. It wants to—
And it smolders, weak and unsure.
Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

Tending to your fire is the skill, see.
Knowing when to push, when to pull,
When to hold back and let be.
What you add, how you move.
You figure it out, whatever it is.
The fire wants to burn.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much:
Move a log, let it breathe;
Add some good dry oak;
Let it fall down so it can start over.
That’s the best one—
Some people try to make it
Too perfect. Everything lined up,
Stacked just so. It burns itself out.

Nothing can stay perfect forever.
A fire changes all through its time,
But you get these moments where
Perfect happens.
You’re on the coast of Maine,
There’s a fire pit. Strong coffee. Time.
The tide is rising.
You breathe in, and let yourself burn.
October 9th, 2022