NaPoWriMo, Day 20 (belated)


Peshtigo, WI – October 8, 1871


When Chicago burned, so did we.

Our bodies froze in the river

where we hid our skin from flame

and held our breath until our lungs

broke open and our mouths chewed ash.

Updraft and fall,

wind solid as locomotive steel

twisted, wound, concentric

and tossing houses in the air

only to drop them to wreckage.

A fire whirl, they called it later–

a name as light as dancing,

as though a dervish had spun through

after a dry season and kindled

the fields, jumping rivers gleefully.

In truth, the heat was a drill

chewing into every surface it could find,

and we closed our eyes against it

as though our eyelids stood a chance.


Note: This summer, while traveling around northern Michigan, I learned about the Peshtigo fire–an event most people outside of the Green Bay area have never heard of, in part because it occurred on the same day as the much more widely publicized Great Chicago Fire.  Communities in Michigan (Manistee and Holland) also experienced fires that day.  However, in truth, the Peshtigo fire destroyed more square acreage, more property, and took more lives than any of those other fires that day, and it remains the deadliest wildfire in American history, with a death toll of at least 1,200 and possibly as many as 2,500.

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