Nantahala Wildfire

For weeks, it had been dusk all day.
The slate sky dry as chalk,
ash drifting in from the wildfire
still raging in the mountains.

The slate sky was dry as chalk
and when I smelled smoke, throat burning
from the blaze in the mountains,
I scolded myself for liking it.

That smell of smoke, throat burning
like a shot of vodka, meant destruction so
I told myself not to like it.
I worried the flames would jump a river.

Surely something so destructive
would spread. Whenever I drank,
I worried the flames would jump a river
like they’d done for my father.

Does drinking always spread through generations?
Leaving my first therapy session,
I thought of all my father had done. I saw
the French Broad curved low, its banks exposed.

Just outside the therapist’s office,
a beige expanse you weren’t mean to see—
river low, banks exposed—
like flesh glimpsed in a lighted window.

I didn’t want to see
ash drifting in from the wildfire
or my reflection in that dark windowpane.
But for weeks, it had been dusk all day.

Mary Ardery is originally from Bloomington, IN. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Missouri Review’s “Poem of the Week,” Fairy Tale ReviewPrairie SchoonerPoet Lore, Best New Poets 2021, Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where she won an Academy of American Poets Prize. You can visit her at

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