Muirburn

by Yvonne Reddick

My father weighed a little less than at birth.
I carried him in both hands to the pines
as October brought the burning season.

When I unscrewed the urn, bone-chaff and grit
streamed out, with their gunpowder smell.
I remembered the sulphur hiss of the match –

how he taught me to breathe on the steeple of logs
until the kindling caught and flames quickened.

Cinders. Potash. Mercury.

That night, as I slept, I saw again the forest clearing
by the moor’s edge, and the ring of ashes.
A skirl of smoke began to rise –

bracken curling, a fume of blaeberry leaves.
Ants broke their ranks to scatter and flee,
and a moth spun ahead of the fire-wind.

Lead. Arsenic. Carbon monoxide.

To these elementals, we return.
Then, through the smoke, I glimpsed a line of figures
on the hillside, beating and beating the heather

as the fire-front roared towards them.
A volley of shouts – “Keep the wind at your back!”

Calcium. Lithium. Carbon dioxide.

My grandmother threshing with a fire-broom,
Dad hacking a firebreak. My stillborn brother, now grown,

sprinting for the hollow where the spring once flowed –
the whole hill flaring in the updraft.

And there: a girl, running for the riverside.
She wore my face, the shade of ash.