The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Mark Williams

My Forest Fire


My God! I think to myself, driving, eyes on Smokey,

looking down at me from a billboard—shovel in claw.

Nine out of ten humans cause forest fires? No way!

I doubt nine out of ten humans have been in a forest,


let alone set one on fire, I reason, passing Batteries + Bulbs,

The Wine Vault, and Panera while considering (and remember,

this is going through my mind as fast as a forest fire, plus,

I’m driving) all the times I went camping and made campfires


before slipping into my bag for the night, and how the next morning

there would be a few diehard embers in the pit, but it was getting late

by then and if I wanted to reach Lake Unforgettable

or summit Mount Not-That-Difficult by noon I’d better get going,


so it’s possible the wind kicked up after I got going

and sparked a spark or awakened an ember, however that works,

blowing either spark or ember onto pine needle or wood chip.

But since I preferred point-to-point hikes to out-and-back or loop


hikes, I could have missed seeing my forest fire altogether.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that I’m no different from everyone else,

so if I’m wrong and nine out of ten of us have been in a forest,

it’s possible the other eight of you have caused a fire, too.


By this time, I’m past Best Buy, approaching Logan’s Road House

when I realize what all of you knew by Batteries + Bulbs, that what

Smokey really said was, “Nine out of ten forest fires are caused by …”

Oh, you know.


Stopped at Simply Mac, streetlight glowing like an ember in a fire pit,

I’m thinking that, more accurately, nine out of ten humans

have caused something like a forest fire. You know

how sometimes when you’re in the middle of a dream


and you feel as though (and if I’m not like everyone else

this could be embarrassing) you’ve killed someone,

robbed a 7-Eleven, or run over Mr. Sparkles?

So you decide to wake up, but when you do


you still feel like you’ve killed, robbed, or run over,

and the feeling sticks with you through breakfast

until finally you think the someone, 7-Eleven, or Mr. Sparkles

is a stand-in for some terrible thing you’ve really done


or a not-so-terrible thing that resulted in a terrible thing,

and since life is point-to-point and not out-and-back or a

loop, you might not know what either the not-so terrible thing

you did or the terrible thing you caused was. Imagine


you’re a cow walking out of a shed at 137 DeKoven Street

in Chicago, Illinois, on October 8, 1871. You’re munching hay,

flicking your tail, thinking how it wouldn’t hurt Mrs. O

to use a little lotion on her hands and also, Holy cow, this hay is dry!


completely unaware you just flicked over the lantern

that will result in the deaths of 300 people, the destruction

of 3.3 square miles, and leave 100,000 homeless.

By now I’m turning into my drive, waving at my neighbor, Joe.


If ever someone has just remembered a not-so-terrible thing

that sparked a terrible thing, Joe could be the guy,

listlessly raking leaves in his front yard. But wait. If my

nine-out-of-ten-not-so-terrible-thing causation premise is correct,


isn’t it possible that nine out of ten of us (Joe included)

have done a fairly good thing that caused a good or possibly great thing?

Wouldn’t Joe want to know? “Hey, Joe!” I shout, jumping from my car.

But Joe just looks at me, drops his rake, and runs into his house.




MARK WILLIAMS's writing has appeared in The Hudson Review, The Southern Review, Indiana Review, Rattle, Nimrod, The American Journal of Poetry, and the anthologies, New Poetry From the Midwest and American Fiction. Finishing Line Press published his poem, "Happiness," as a chapbook in 2015. He lives in Evansville, Indiana, not far from The Wine Vault and Panera.


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