The sun casts an orange glow on smoke in the sky in the top left of the photo. Near the bottom right the smoke appears blackish. The silhouette of mostly bare trees is visible.

Pros & Cons Of Wildfire: A Conversation With Smokey Bear

Chiwenite Onyekwelu

This must have been after the last
California wildfire.
Everything that once stood with
American poise fell
to its knees. Out in the heat, I ran
into Smokey, half-burnt

& thawing quick. I held his wounds —
hands brushing on
furs. Smokey says fire is the closest
thing to lust, it consumes
anything that its hand can touch.
But there is something

wrong with absolutes. Isn’t lust the
body’s way of surviving,
of raising its drenched face to gasp
for air. He says I
mistake tenacity for survival. While
one tears when you

cut too deep, the other needles itself
back in multiple ways.
I think my Bear-friend got it twisted:
Whatever fire takes
it must return, clean & transformed.
Remember the

poplars hastening to ash. The ore &
its shimmering gold.
As a kid, I saw shrubs decimate while
a whole field burned.
In spring, they came back again,
manure underfoot

& better grown. Smokey thinks I’m
missing the point.
What about the climate. What about
California & Brazilian
Amazon. What about wildlife —
everything that never

fully heals when the flames are out.
To consume is not to
save. To consume is to set ablaze. We
stand in silence
afterwards, paws resting on hands.
Perhaps this is how

the world would end: blood in the wild,
burning trees, so many
animals sizzling to death & in the
middle of this, a poet
writing a poem, even though it might
never get to be read after all.

Chiwenite Onyekwelu (he/him) is a Nigerian poet, with works published in Adroit Journal, Chestnut Review, America Magazine, Gutter Magazine, and elsewhere. He was a runner up for the 2022 Foley Poetry Prize.