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FIRE SEASON by David Lau

Work   •   Nature As Infrastructure

FIRE SEASON: A Poem by David Lau

From California, scene of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire

From the 7. to 12. December 2020

As part of Nature as Infrastructure - A proposition by The Winter Office. 

David Lau presents a poetry reading of one of his latest works, a multi-part poem called “Fire Season.” The reading, filmed in Santa Cruz, California, includes the scenes of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire with videography by Jake Thomas. The poem explores the overlapping fire, economic, and pandemic crises.

David Lau’s Paper Tigers: New Poems and Selected Prose, featuring recent poetry and critical writings on literature, politics, and film, will be published by Really Simple Syndication Press ( in April 2021.

David Lau is a California-based poet from Santa Cruz. Lau’s books of poetry are Virgil and the Mountain Cat and Still Dirty. His essays have appeared in New Left Review, Bookforum, and Boom: a Journal of California. He is co-editor of the literary journal Lana Turner.

Jake J. Thomas is a multimedia artist working out of Northern California.




It was August, 2020. Used to pandemic sleeplessness, I lay awake at night looking out a window at the stars above Santa Cruz. Keeping extra quiet, I could almost hear the constellations kicking sparks against a nymph—then there was a sudden low sound like wind picking up. A rare fasting-moving, arcus roll cloud cut across the window and what followed was a dry lightning storm’s thousand strikes across the Santa Cruz Mountains with almost no precipitation. The lightning that trailed the roll cloud lasted until ten the following morning. The fires crept toward the University for a few days. We evacuated our neighborhood, driving to LA to find clear air. We returned to the intensest orange skies and smoke as fires erupted across the state. It was six weeks before I saw the stars again from a window. Unperturbed, they had that “glowing resonance beyond all meaning” (Jameson) of which Mallarmé’s ptyx sonnet provides a glimpse. This is time: this anecdote of vision—flight—return—vision; a collage of disconnected instances, death fears, loved and memorable features; cosmic, historical, surging in every instant. 


Highway One scorched orange I breathed 

embers many structures lost

commotion’s forms burned

after the two centuries of new 

buildings and mass parties

framed to see us we’re left 

with bootlegged dialectics spare parts

little town in the forest old motherboard

against the soft wheels new deck bombed Western

their odd-angled ships-in-bottles all but impractical

for here I stood 

the broken-back counterpoint

with labor basso profundo

at the gates of the graveyard for rivers

nature’s infrastructures human industry

where the written wall blazed 

Ahed Tamini-like appearance in the dry air

everyone hard with ash watched 

the smoke come cover the Santa Cruz Mountains

it concentrated into emblems

fire lines backed up with flame retardants

amidst the cultural accelerants 

dark hills had been green blue even now memory

combustible brown redwood matchsticks

beetle-hollowed out old clear-cut section

pasted with pamphlets and posters another 

Heroes’ Hill all but unreachable esoteric

except with the ghost

column of Angolan fighters

reinforced by Cuban artillery Boony Doon

the life force it was

was surrounded in the last instance

all aflame flamboyant firenado

scandalous decadence against the wall

graffito now no snitches nephew

“Nothing is coming back here, from bad to worse, with fewer

businesses able to hang on.” 

What is is going down 

the nation displaced 37 million Middle East

the nation was fire owned killed

the Taco Bell on Pacific 

its broken sign purple 

with stinky Kush and a Food Not Bombs

table under a shade tent

you could not run these towns

true associations for the border

when the fire determined the nation

you forest man 

teeth bead maker white whale chaser

the nothingness came here to press us


there was everywhere 

I was digging up Antigone

meanly wiping out the Godhead

the plenipotentiary lightning strikes

the Poet and Patriot

withdrew from production

I beach noir sea murder

organized chokepoints

of production wilder bobcats

controlled burns

a firing squad the kiln

skilled with otters 

you then torch aloe

in mounded heights on the state’s property

As the fire came I  

selected interferon

destroyer and preserver by missing some

remembering others I was wind-worn myself

In the upstairs window I saw Red Mars

Kropotkin’s desiccated planet night

Covid capitalism was toilet paper by the square

fear such a thing


I fell was back up riding a tiger across Asia

to disseminate the martial and financial arts

clichés obsolesced around us 

I kept it local to the pods

half of all small business instantly gone

after the red decade since the financial crisis

just outside its gates in town

the nothing man

rode out with harriers against

the fetishized discourse mongers

fear death by card readers

I still have not internalized

the need for the state in unincorporated

Santa Cruz County City of Vernon

Salton Sea Tehachapi Tulare  

the panic came fire invisible contagion

production dissolves nature into sums canned for the worker

the florescent lights of the Taco Bell marquee no sign 

the human relation to nature is industry

the workers association was a bonded swerve

I hunted inseparable events

fire and disease were indivisible portions

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