Self Portrait
by Kevin Conder

caught in a Mountain Pool at 9,253 feet

Fiercely whiskered catfish the size of a u-boat
passes under the glacial water, mumbling
wisdom as it goes. Dusk falls, the mountains fold
in on themselves and collapse into the lake.
Gnats gather in high shafts of light between the great sequoias
sparrows make one last killing run through the piles of insects
a western diamondback scans for heat.
The darkness lowers itself like a sledgehammer.

Moonrise over the reflected ridgeline,
ominous moon, red moon, moon of armageddon.
Origami mountain edges smoke, rocks begin to burn,
Douglas pines ignite like flaming arrows in the Pacific wind.

I shake off my flesh like snakeskin.
Wings beat around my head,
I spread my Christ arms and wait to be taken.
A knife hole appears overhead, an enormous light straining
to get through. The wind stops blowing as though a breath completely

The end is coming soon but it never seems to get here….

The sky splits open like an egg.

Dark helicopters carrying million candlepower lights,
unwieldingly heavy from their bloated water bellies,
empty themselves again and again. The sky blooms
with smoke jumpers.

The fire warms my back in the chill Sierra dawn,
coming closer all the time, out of control, jumping over
the chokepoints and back fires. My face is covered with hot yellow dust
my eyes hard and dark

The catfish rises from the clear deep water until his dorsal fin
fractures the clear surface. He says only Run. As I have done all my life,
running from the flames coming closer.

I stand in the palm of the great mountain, vowing
this time, as I have all the other times, this time, I will do things right.
This time, when it all ends, I won’t have it coming,
whatever I’ve been told
that singular it might be.
This time I will walk with light feet throughout the land,
my footfalls leaving no ripple or dust vortex.

As gray-white smoke gathers overhead tinged with the skin-like pinkness of predawn,
I stand and move on. I stand, pull my skin back on
and move, oh so silently,

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