Elegy for a Firefighter
—Cory Iverson, 1985-2017
Back burning’s meant to be
defensive, but no one truly commands
a fire once it’s lit—the wind
can turn as quickly as a switchback
in this steep country of crevice,
cliff and chaparral-covered declivity.
While flames and thick smoke
overtook you, we hunched over
our Internet satellite maps
and watched our local anchors break
the latest news with stuttering
astonishment. A few days later,
a paean, your remains driven
across five counties in a hearse,
your thousand brethren
standing at attention on the overpasses;
even the rush-hour assholes
pulled over to let you by.
It was on TV in a Santa Barbara bar,
and I sipped a beer as some local drunk
disparaged the ceremony, the flags,
the American hoopla.
I couldn’t help sharing some
of his skepticism—it’s ingrained
now in this time of perpetual deceit—
but of course none of it’s your fault,
and the people in the bar agreed;
the drunk was lucky to get out unscarred.
Settling back into our inebriate
comfort, we silently concurred:
that so few of us knew you
was all the more reason to mourn.
Like you, I write this down cushioned by the decades’ dispossession, the foreignness of time.
Your Uncle Jimmy probably wasn’t much different than mine. Breath like diesel exhaust, a
scar zigzagging down his temple. The one I speak of had the flag of New Hampshire
tattooed on his forearm. A ship grounded on a spit of granite, it looked—in his celly’s
amateur rendition—like a blue and brown birthmark.
And your Aunt Emmeline? A godly pose as she stacked chipped dinner plates in the kitchen
cabinet? A sigh like traffic grinding down through the afternoon? I know her well.
Our first cousins: Marshall Ernest. Ida Mattie. Wallace Joy.
Holidays we visited them in their mountain cabins, their greasy twelfth-floor apartments,
their sod houses, their cottages and battered Cape Cods. Reminisces of better days
were brief, the evenings always ending in long speeches of reproach, bottles
shattering, furniture splintered, some poor mutt kicked and yowling as it bolted out
David Starkey served as Santa Barbara’s 2009-2011 Poet Laureate, and he is Director of the Creative Writing Program at Santa Barbara City College and the Publisher and Co-editor of Gunpowder Press. He has published seven full-length collections of poetry, most recently It Must Be Like the World (Pecan Grove, 2011), Circus Maximus (Biblioasis, 2013) and Like a Soprano (Serving House, 2014), an episode-by-episode re-visioning of The Sopranos TV series. In addition, over the past thirty years he has published more than 500 poems in literary journals such as Alaska Quarterly Review, American Scholar, Antioch Review, Barrow Street, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, Poetry East, Southern Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Southern Poetry Review. His textbook, Creative Writing: Four Genres in Brief (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), is in its third edition.