Fire in the Onion Field
by Deborah Burnham

The soil in those fields is so
rich it can catch fire.  Blazing
black dirt isn’t easily controlled.
John McPhee

The mole never sees the sun that warms his wiggling
fur through earth so rich it burns when a loose
spark lands in a furrow.  The fire that summer
scorched a million onions lying in dry
cracks deep enough to hide a man.  The fire
leaped gaps, rejoicing at the air then dove
into the earth, warming onions so the green
fingers at their cores began to steam.
Their perfume spread in smoke to a mole’s nose
who felt the heat as if a stray sun
had exploded in the field and lay there,
puffing fire.  His throat, soft as an eyelid,
swelled, and he tore an onion’s crackling paper,
longing for its water.  Fire bubbled through
his eyes; he clung to a hot roof while his fur
curled and browned like elm leaves in September.
His paws fluttered as he swam across the sun.

 

From Anna and The Steel Mill by Deborah Burnham, 1995
Reprinted by permission of Texas Tech University Press

Quote from John McPhee, The New Yorker, July 3, 1978, “Giving Good Weight”, page 36