Wildfires Burn in California

Wildfires burn in California
Melting mountains of diamond obsidian

Wildfires burn in California,
Fought by incarcerated men,
Brown and black faces in orange jumpsuits
Walking amid burning embers
Breathing fire and smoke,
Becoming one with the flames.

Wildfires burn in California,
Threatening enfranchised neighborhoods
Whose laws and taxes and referendums
Put this penal system in place:
Hard labor in Hell for $1 an hour
Fought by volunteered firefighters

Wildfires burn in California
Fought by incarcerated men
Banished into a flaming prison
Outside the walls of prison
Like so many Lucifer’s cast out of heaven.
Ambassador to the flaming battle
Between power and justice
of the state prison industrial complex.

Wildfires burn in California
Fed by what imprisons us
In the first place . . .
Poverty and segregation
Racial profiling and targeting
Gun violence and police brutality
Criminalized black or brown or poor.

When wildfires burned in Alabama
The white spectacled governor
Ordered firefighters to put them out
By any means necessary
Water hoses turned on children

When wildfires burned in Watts and Oakland
The governor of the state of California
Didn’t volunteer prisoners to help fight those flames
Fired from all sides, from both coasts,
black and white and blue. Urban civil wars.

Wildfires still burn in America
Set ablaze since before that
nineteenth century conflagration
We called a Civil War,
Waiting for a match to drop
By a flame hooded blowtorch
Whose incendiary tweets
Feed the flames of hatred
Charring America’s heart.

Wildfires are spreading in America
and are coming…
to an elementary school
movie theater
African Methodist Episcopal church
political rally
biker bar
and a shopping mall near you.

When wildfire spread to your state
Fires kindled by the kind of hatred
That puts people in prison in the first place,
Your governor will not pay volunteer firefighters
Incarcerated black and brown and poor white men
Two cents an hour to put them out.
Such fires can’t be fought with water,
Especially not with spit or tears.

Wildfires burn in prisons in Colorado,
Florida, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma,
…and die there
The fading embers never rage
To incinerate a forest or senate floor
To regenerate seeds of new growth

Like history, wildfires will repeatedly burn
Again and again and again.

Until we learn how to prevent wildfires
We will have to continue to watch them burn.

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