A Small Story about the Sky

Editor’s Note: At the last open mic reading, half of the poets read poems about smoke. The air is choked with it. The entire Western US is on fire. I have tried, in my own way, to write about this — the smoke that causes everyone to cough as if having smoked one cigarette lit from another all day and into the evening, the disappearance of the nearby hills and not-so-distant mountains behind a haze of gray, the neon tangerine of the setting sun, and the bloody scepter of the moon as it waxes in the sky.

Here is a poem about fire that speaks to me of the horrible devouring, and does it so well I can see it when I close my eyes.

I send our blessings to those displaced, human and animal, and to those fighting for the trees, which cannot run away.


The fire was so fierce,

So red, so gray, so yellow

That, along with the land,

It burned part of the sky

Which stayed black in that corner

For years,

As if it were night there

Even in the daytime,

A piece of the sky burnt

And which then

Could not be counted on

Even by the birds.


It was a regular fire—

Terrible—we forget this

About fire—terrible

And full of pride.  

It intended to be

Big, no regular fire.  

Like so many of us,

It intended to be more

And this time was.

It was not better or worse

Than any other fire

Growing up.  

But this time, it was a fire

At just the right time

And in just the right place—

If you think like a fire—

A place it could do something big.


Its flames reached out

With ten thousand pincers,

As if the fire

Were made of beetles and scorpions

Clawing themselves to get up,

Pinching the air itself

And climbing,

So many sharp animals

On each other’s backs

Then into the air itself,

Ten thousand snaps and pinches

At least,

So that if the sky

Was made of something,

It could not get away this time.


Finally the fire

Caught the sky,

Which acted like a slow rabbit

Which had made a miscalculation.

It didn’t believe this could happen

And so it ran left,

Right into the thin toothpicks of flames,

Too fast to pull back,

The sky with all its arms,

Hands, fingers, fingernails,

All of it




The sky stayed black

For several years after.

I wanted to tell you

This small story

About the sky.

It’s a good one

And explains why the sky

Comes so slowly in the morning,

Still unsure of what’s here.  

But the story is not mine.

It was written by fire,

That same small fire

That wanted to come home

With something of its own

To tell,

And it did,

A small piece of blue in its mouth.

Alberto Rios

from Poetry, February 2011


1. Write a myth about how humans discovered the taming of fire.
2. Write a poem of praise to those who are fighting the scorpions of flame that threaten so much each day.
3. Write what the sky in this poem might tell us about how fire took a bite out of it, and how that feels.


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