Monday, 2 July 2018

Poem: The Arsonists

At 4 am the eastern sky changes from dark blue to pale gold. The wind, which has been blowing all night, is pushing the poplars from side to side. Twelve miles to the south and again ten miles to the west, the moors are on fire. For a week now hundreds of men and women have been beating down the flames, grappling hoses up steep slopes, and digging fire breaks, but the wind fans the flames and joins fire to fire. Deep below the surface the peat is burning darkly. It will be weeks before the burning is quenched.

Fires are common on the moors, the loss of wildlife and livestock an annual wounding. Almost always the cause is arson.

The arsonists
As soon as the bell pits have dried out,
the arsonists move in.

The flames burn upwards at first,
then sideways, then every which way,
pushed about by the wind.

Larks can fly free,
but the beetles are torched,
and so are the tiny gem-like snails,
the skippers, who yesterday danced 
their mating dance, the quick, bronze lizards,
and this year’s lambs, still
too young to know where not to run.

Sometimes, like a curtain flapping in the breeze,
the smoke clears.
The moor is scorched and flattened.
The farmer closes his eyes.
He doesn’t want to look.
He’s exhausted. He’s enraged, but also defeated.
The fire will get everything.

And the arsonists?
They stand in the shadow of an old stone barn,
watching the fire turn predator,
listening for the sirens
screaming up from the road below.

Soon, where the moor was,
is a black emptiness.

Maybe this is what the arsonists want,
a darkness where nothing moves.
Maybe despair is their best excuse.

C Sheila Wild

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