a draft of something, or maybe just a dispatch
The flames burned out beehives and crow nests and rabbit holes. The rabbit holes smelled like dinner. The flames burned hospitals, and field hospitals, and tents where soldiers were quickly lacing their dusty boots, photos from home between their teeth. Mud in Cambodia turned into fire soup and ate wagon wheels and river dragons. The very last tobacco fields went up sweet and musky, with the crack rustle sounds of dry leaves.
But no guilt! To hell with guilt. I don’t know if the fire was our fault, but we felt no guilt.
It had the smell of goats and spices and plastic burning. The smoke was blue and shot through with neon orange, and sometimes with plumes of black like wet orca skin, or clear plumes as slick and sticky as topcoat. The world’s smoke was creamy, husky, the smell of roasting fish. Then, the smell of burnt garlic rose up, and burning doll hair, and insects trapped in ceiling lamps.
Flames leapt onto brocade curtains and dry brush between houses that no one got around to clearing. Flames clawed apart books, and oil paintings hung on plaster walls. And it smelled of fried chicken — almost good — and then it smelled of scummy fish tanks and hot metal, like bad brakes, and then it smelled like rotten lipstick. The mildewy bubbles escaping fish-mouths caught fire. The lakes caught fire. The fig trees and the inlets and the fog burned, smelling of marshland and something malty from across the ocean, also burning, burnt rice, maybe. Was that considered a delicacy? Burnt rice at the bottom of pans? Wasn’t there a name for it? Well, the burning world smelled like that, too.
The flames flattened the bluegrass hills and it smelled like bourbon, that smoke, like bourbon and maraschino cherries and sawdust. Homey. It smelled like purple corn, the clamoring smoke and fire that rolled up Maryland’s crabby shores and the blue rivers and through alligator keys. It sounded like dry leaves, the whole world, like dry dry leaves rustling. No human sounds. No screams. Just a few birds, on wires, a few mockingbirds sounding the calls of all the other birds.
And the flames burned singing bowls, and Nepalese snow, and the smoke from the snow was glittery. The world was a fire now. A real one. The bougainvillea in Capri went up in a burst of pink glitter, and Africa, one country border tumbled after another, the sand, the Nile, the gorillas, the colonizers in their evil graves, with the stink of old Europe and rotting meat in that smoke. Waterfalls and ancient bones in and bits of diamonds burned. Africa was the hardest, emotionally. It seemed to truly mean our end. The smoke in Africa took the shape of beads and color of blood, and it seemed to take a long time for the land to give up. But it did. It smelled of hummus when the land finally burned, a hummus of earth, peaty, mossy, and vaginal like a birth room.
The polar ice burned. Took no time at all. The flames ate the penguins and the black water capping off the hulls of the last tankers, and a Greenpeace ship, and it smelled like hair dye, like dandruff, and then the smell changed again, became clear and fresh, as obliterating as vodka up both nostrils. It sounded like dry leaves, the whole world, like dry dry leaves rustling.
The world really burned now. Machu Picchu, gone! Those unfathomable rocks, the Peruvian air a thin lace of oxygen, gone.
The south burned. At last, at last, let it burn. Let that one burn. Let it burn and burn again, and again.
Our north coast burned, what they called “the new England,” and it smelled like fish and we heard cries in Portuguese between the licks of flame, small yelps, and the masts of ships buried in the Atlantic caught fire, and then it was gone, the new England, with its clams and old cemeteries and elm trees.
The world was aflame now. A Ganesh went up. It smelled like wet bronze, like rained-on bronze. And the flames were lobelia-blue, then marigold-orange, then Ruby Woo-red.
Detroit went up, the midwest, those salt of the earth neighbors, transplants starting businesses, grandmas on porches, it all burned, and in the flames we heard Motown wails like a warped record. I can’t help myself, I love you and nobody else. It all burned.
Tokyo street stalls burned, and so did the fois gras farms and the vineyards, and the whole of Johannesburg went up in one silver, screaming flame, then the tip of South America, it’s pinkie-finger land-curl dry and flaccid, then hot, then gone. Koalas burned and smelled like jerky and stuffed animals in the dryer. Russia burned and the people sat in their ice houses drinking coffee and watching the flames come, come, come.
It all burned. Hippos and hazelnut trees. The Nile crusted and charred and smelled like CocaCola. The few last tigers, Vietnam, the Congo, Madrid, the olives and olive oil popping like popcorn, Idaho (smelling of salmon and grass). The Amazon went in one deafening, wet poof! And whoosh!
When my town burned it smelled like Muir Woods, salt-dry wood, mist; and we heard crows though there were none. The whole world burned. Cows burned, the hamburgers and the sacred ones. Tiers of wet-smacking rice fields, and cranberry bogs, and British bogs, and alfajores in glass jars, and Irish cities where a few people tried to run, collars up, toward the ocean, only to see that the ocean burned too, a gray flaming mass, smelling like the foamy head of Mexican beer and something from the east, maybe thick white face paint from Geisha days, and after that, the wind changed, and the smell on the Irish water was of Africa’s earth-hummus, and then fried chicken, but burnt — just the burnt oil, really, smoking in cast iron.
The very last cocaine fields went up and the birds became giddy. The air in Beijing burned strange rainbows, rainbows! And smelled of crushed bugs and Fanta. Fields of lavender burned with the tang of medicine. Th sound of crackling leaves grew. Marrakech was already ash, orange groves and intricate tiles gone, just a few tough bugs left. Samoa burned and we smelled Samoa cookies, and it was almost happy, a sick happy, the smell made us happy against our wills, and we felt horrible about our colonized hearts.
(God, remember that summer in Italy? All of us together? Oh! I do. We were lazy. Like the world was honey. We ate ice cubes and used your Swiss army knife to hunk piave into our mouths. A low sun melted apricot over hills and in the violet we watched bats fly away. We smoked cigarettes and peeled grapes with our fingers, all of us tan and smelling of dust and wine.
Remember how the sun dappled the arbor, and it was hot by 9? Our brows and underarms and crotches were sweaty by breakfast. We had coffee and boring Italian biscuits. We sliced peaches with the unwashed cheese knife. I brought ice and sparkling water and white wine from the cellar, my feet silent on the tile. We drank and swam a little drunk. That teal pool water, overlooking Tuscany! We ate prosciutto and tomatoes for lunch. We took naps and woke for slow fucks and napped again.
The newspapers didn’t come to that town. The phones didn’t ring. That was life. Slow and good. We woke at sunset and came to the table to start another dinner: peppers plucked from a jar, cold zucchini, black cherries, cigarettes. The navy velvet sky was thick as frosting, and thick with stars. And all of us were together. What joy, what joy.)
The banks burned and the smoke smelled of cotton and ink, olive-green tufts blown through the Global and local south, where the money came from but had never been. Flamenco dresses, a chorus of red crespon ruffles, burned. Vaccines caught fire. The Queen’s jewels burned, filigree and gold, and the smell was of pilgrim muslin and rocky winter shores. Refineries fell to the flames and threw a mist of electric gray smoke over cities.
The world burned and burned and burned. But no guilt! No guilt. We weren’t guilty so we felt no guilt.