“My brother and family were told to evacuate. There were no fire trucks in sight and a police officer came to the house and told them that they were on their own and to pack and leave.”
– Santa Clarita resident Ben Cather, quoted by Caleb Lunetta for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal for coverage of the Tick Fire
A lone coyote walks the city border, patrolling,
like a sentry listening for the first shot.
Already, a writhing pool of smoke sits heavy
in the belly of the valley.
It is no longer plum season.
The water bombers fly low over our roof
and my mother sings of the ocean that carried her,
the last refugee in our lineage
until my birth. The first flame
jumps the ridge, tumbles down blistered hill
to chase a rabbit through
someone’s tomato garden.
One mile east, an ember crashes into rupture
and here, an officer knocks on our door.
Start packing, he says. You’re on your own.
Leave, as if we aren’t already evacuees.
I close the front door. We scurry
into a car, a refugee family of three
carrying more than my parents first brought:
a passport, a license, the ghosts
of everything waiting to be incinerated.
Still, my mother keeps singing
as I drive us past the burning palms,
a new refugee watching the road
for every reincarnation of catastrophe.
Đỗ Nguyên Mai is a Vietnamese American poet from Santa Clarita, California. She is the author of Ghosts Still Walking (Platypus Press, 2016) and Battlefield Blooming (Sahtu Press, 2019). She is pursuing a doctoral degree in political science at the University of California, Riverside.
Photo by Giorgio Trovato.