The Beast, Faltering or Flaming …

After John Vaillant’s Fire Weather

Smoke and flames billow over the hills of Kelowna during the 2023 fires that started in McDougall Creek on August 15, 2023 and spread into West Kelowna, resulting in a state of emergency. Source: @deschoots /X 

Pipelines long enough to reach the Moon 
and fulfill a honeymoon’s desire, or to Mars 
to serve warlike places, as we wrap Earth’s 
waist twice round strangulating green swaths
on her beautiful gown as seen by an astronaut 
from outer space, who wonders … these black 
blobs, indecent spilled on Earth’s lap 
and on her white shoulder, too

Bulldozers and rock-crushers tall as skyscrapers
edge high as Nimrod’s tower 
where hard workers speak in many tongues
but babble after raw whiskey or rum 
and Mary Jane’s or cocaine’s let-down
after many weeks-long, 12-hour shifts … 

and so Lucifer fell from heaven
(and Icarus from an Apollonian sky)
wearing his blazing colours, as proud workers
wear their trade shirts, Suncor or Sunoco
tough men and ladies and others driving SUVs 
and half-tons over the icy moonscape of winter
or motorcycles roaring down hot asphalt roads
over squishy muskeg in red-hot summer 

that makes these Prometheans near to gods
while they work hard for – not steal! – not fire
but fire’s fuel, produce energy enough to make
a pleasure dome with a steamy hot tub when it’s 40
below or an ice rink when new temperatures 
reach 40 above …

You have to salute these top-industrious 
overreaching ones who can wrest a cup of ambrosia 
from a garden bed of bitch-hard quartz 
bedrock when – if only they’d been born! –
50 million years ago an oleaginous river flowed 
clear as maple syrup …
A hot planet, with a space-heated ice cap
melting like ice cream,
               as Zeus points a lazy finger  
at a boreal black spruce
browning reddish in an early-summer spring,

and the red beast inhales winds of conflicting
temperatures, seasonal or in flux, and breathes out 
incarnate in his flaming glory….

               Pipelines over earth’s girth swing past Mars
               filled with the mightily metamorphosed elixir
               … as dark shoulders move in the dark
               and leaders with weevil faces
               rise in the new spotlight 
                                                         to declare war …

               Missiles’ plumed lightning in the night
               and neighbour vineyards blasted black
               to a forest of crucifixes as the black-gold sludges
                             to make faraway movers and influencers
               rich as they watch the shatter-show    EXPLODE
               on bright screens … distracted in the absolute black
               and white of the moment from the red beast 
                                                                                 gaining momentum…

Meanwhile a politician in a heated building
with cold feet before a meeting decides
the pipelines serve a purpose

to make humankind great (or comfortable)
or maybe they don’t, with the beast’s 
heavy breathing getting 

out of hand. Or, in all fairness
with a hot forehead in an air-conditioned place
decides he’ll consult the beast’s popularity
in the oracle-polls.


Gillian Harding-Russell is a poet, editor, and reviewer. Her most recent poetry collections include In Another Air (Radiant Press, 2018) and Uninterrupted (Ekstasis Editions, 2020). She lives on Treaty 4 territory.

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