Self-Portrait with Flames and Arapaho Bison

We should have taken better note of what crashed through the wall,
what primal animal force, head ducked, what near-extinct species
which can cross any river more than a mile wide from what to whatever;
what force when drought-moulted, when smelling water,
sets a thousand like it running. Stuffed, it froze as it crashed.
In the bar beneath, though we hardly knew it, we were more taken
with the smell of burning, more taken with the flames themselves
the bus back, burning in the black of the snowfield
which might well have been the smell of preconception in flames,
the smell of chance, like rubber, burning. The smell of discretion,
like kerosene, burning up, then tearing in the wind. The smell
of neglect, like the stuffing of seats, burning. The smell
of stagnation, like the nap-pile over the crankshaft, burning.
We fed the flames with the detritus and napkins of weddings,
a marquee’s striped canvas, doilies, whatever stuffed collapsing thing
sat upright for a while in the flames and then fell forward.
It is my conviction that night that we were burned alive,
for the briefest minutes you sat opposite, you flexed, you flailed,
you grinned so wide, you seemed like me to be fuel for flame,
all we’d been was eaten by flames which lengthened, which blued;
we stood up in flames that burned us alive but could do us no harm…
Above the bar like a train, or an engine stuffed with time, while all
those flaming Arapaho arrows skidded off its back the clumsy bison
crashed through the wall, we stepped away from the flames, the past.

from The World Before Snow (Carcanet, 2015), ? Tim Liardet 2015,, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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