Fire in Tennessee

By SUSAN HARLAN 

Today was on fire. I drove under a mountain on fire, the sun red in winter trees.

The cars on the two-lane highway stopped to watch the sun and smoke. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the traffic usually just stops for bears, which you might see far off, a black rustle in leaves or branches, or not at all.

But everyone saw the sun and stood in the cool air and took pictures and videos on their phones and didn’t say much. Smoke blocked the sky, and it was no time of day at all.

And then the cars set off again, honking their horns through a tunnel. The air stank of a paper plant, and up on the mountainside, green-gray trees stood like pipe cleaners.

The sun was sun and moon together, turning orange as I drove miles away, and then to nothing. The smoke stayed in my eyes and throat and headlights from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, the mile markers marking smoke, the air washing white.

In Cherokee, the Smokey the Bear FIRE DANGER TODAY sign was empty. In the hole where the words high or low or very high might hang, there was a void that meant fire.

I pulled over at a gas station and put a Band-Aid on my finger. I had bitten the nail until it bled like the sun.

 

Susan Harlan’s work has appeared in The Guardian US, Roads & Kingdoms, The Morning News, Public Books, Curbed, The Toast, Nowhere, The Awl, Avidly, and Atlas Obscura.

Photo by author.

Fire in Tennessee

Related Posts

Small plants grow outside the window of a house. The window frame is white, with paint that is peeling slightly.

What the Midwest Was Like

JENNIFER S. CHENG
For months I cared for my plant: watered it, brought in light, cleaned its jar. I noted with pleasure when new leaves began to sprout. The capillary green that unfolded overnight. I watched its roots mingle and spread, tracing against the glass.

Ship at sunset

Two Poems by John Harlan Underhill

JOHN HARLAN UNDERHILL
The black dragon death moon / For two minutes ate the sun today / But her burning shadow ejected it / And as fast as she ate, she ran away. // I wore my fluorescent yellow shirt / To impersonate the flaring one / To outface depression’s eclipse / To declare I am not yet done.

Image of Black Lives Matter written on the ground with dry flowers and a picture of George Floyd.

Delete/Recover

AKWE AMOSU
You can put your faith / in a book, pray from it, place it / under a sick child’s pillow, press / flowers between the leaves, / affirm love for the living, be / in the swim of things, learn / what is human from its pages / and become that. The book / will restore you, / reciprocate.