By Sandra So Hee Chi Kim
The Fire I Carry
It’s blazing hot for days in Los Angeles in the late summer,
the sun so bright
that you instinctively retract your body, holding up your arms
to block out its assault, the scorching heat
bearing down so oppressively at the height of day
that you retreat into artificially cooled buildings
or at least the relative respite under a tree.
When there are no trees around, you make yourself small
under the shadow of a traffic signal post
at the crosswalk.
Then there are the wildfires that predictably catch us off guard.
Hell’s flood blazing through the brush
that had prepared for its baptism day after day
dying, drying to a crisp, flames
stunning in their swift spread and scale of destruction,
evacuating life in their path
and ahead of them, uncertain of where
they will go next. The whims of the wind
direct their course; the smoke darkens the sky
for a time. The oxygen we breathe feels scarce.
We burrow in our homes, our lungs
on fire, our eyes stinging.
I once learned that the Korean word for dinosaur
literally translates to “frightening dragon.”
Dragon mythologies are found all over the world.
It makes me wonder —
what if the idea of dragons has prehistoric origins?
It makes me think of
the history of this planet,
of early human beings, of
how we got here.
In Korean mythology
the dragon is wise, powerful, and benevolent.
She was once a serpentine creature, earthbound,
who meditated for one thousand years
before attaining the power for a transfiguration
that released her to the skies.
Our dragon is a water spirit, directing water
in all its forms. Her breath moves water
giving life, sustaining life,
warding off stagnation and death. She originates
rivers. Her lucky scales generate
rainfall and abundant harvest. She protects
the skies, the seas, and the mountains.
Her descendants flourish.
The wind dies, or some rain falls. The firefighters succeed eventually.
The sky begins to look bluer and we emerge
from shelter, eager to walk among one another
in the fresh air. We breathe in deeply.
Soon the dead leaves of the oak tree pile up on the lawn
in fiery shades of red, orange, and amber
— an eerie transmutation.
The air feels cooler. The quality of the light is gentler,
sadder. Twilight silently edges in,
an astonishing arrival that stops
us in our tracks. We watch until
the skyline is ablaze and the earth
dips into inky night until
again, we turn in
as the world turns.
What is this fire I carry inside,
destruction and death
beauty and light
a burning ache in the darkness?
Our dragon does not breathe fire.
She holds in her mouth a glowing,
flaming orb, the condensation of
enlightenment. With it, she blows spiritual energy
into the buddha. Did you know? She dwells in
deep waters, uplifting the earth and at one with it.
What I wish for is
the alchemy of the dragon,
crucible of self
not anything yet bound to everything