Smoke
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Smoke




A week ago, the earth shook beneath our feet.

I told mama not to be worried - that sometimes these things happened.

They say the earth moves when mountains collide under the water

but we know the truth.

The earth moves to settle in for winter

like turning over to sleep.



Five days ago, a man stumbled into our town

his face was dark with ash and soot

and he could not speak

only mumble.

He stared through us, as if we were not there at all.

He looked at me and I saw nothing in his eyes.

He said "fire",

and "death",

and "smoke".

I offered to let him stay at our house

(though mama threw such a fit about his cleanliness!)

but he was gone by the morning.

They said he walked south.



Three days ago, the earth trembled again

and a group of miners from the hills said they saw something burning

over the mountains, to the north.

"Are the forests burning?" we asked

though it was late in the season for them to do so.

They said no.

They said that it was not burning wood

but something else.

They said that up in the hills, they could hear sounds

sounds of machines and grinding metal

faint, but growing closer.

And they said that they saw smoke

thick and black and dense

not from burning trees

but something else.



Two days ago a group of men came to our town from the south.

They rode in a motor vehicle and wore helmets

like soldiers.

The earth had shaken again in the night,

and now we could feel tremors every few hours.

Mama was growing anxious.

She wanted us to go to the hills,

where tía Elaina and the cousins live.

I told her that was silly, that someone needs to watch the farm

and the house.

I told her I would ask the soldiers about the tremors

and the smoke.

When I spoke to them, they said very little.

They looked at me like an adult might look at a lost child

and they said that many others were heading south

to La Paz.

I mentioned the farm, and the house

and the soldier just shook his head

and said that other were heading south

to La Paz,

and then they drove away.



Yesterday, the sun did not rise.

I sent mama and little Felicia to the hills

where tía Elaina and the cousins live.

I said I would stay and watch the farm

and the house

and that they could come back after the fires had burned out.

There is a haze that has settled over our town

sometimes it rolls in like waves off the sea

choking the countryside.

The air is thick with it.

I could not even watch mama and Felicia and the other leave town

because the smoke was so thick.

More have come from the north

their faces black with soot and their eyes bloodstained.

They do not speak.

They do not see.

They do not hear.

They barely breathe.

They take slow steps towards the south.

They mouth wordless curses and choke on the haze.

I do not think they care about the smoke.

Sometimes I think they are made of it themselves.

But the fires will burn out

and mama and Felicia will come down from the hills.



Last night I heard guns

and cannons

and the sound of men screaming from far away.

I woke up and came outside, and the smoke was so thick

it felt like I was swimming through it.

I saw one of the soldiers from before

only he was covered in oil and missing an arm.

He walked into town from the north

and looked to be heading to the well near the square.

I asked him if he needed water

but he said nothing to me

just mouthed wordless curses.

By the time I had gotten back

he was dead.

His uniform was soaked with blood

and soot.

The gunfire continued throughout the night

but after a while, the only sound I could hear was

grinding iron

and screaming steel.

I saw through the smoke, in the distance,

a mountain of fire and machinery.

Every so often you could see an explosion

as another shell broke on its hide

but another piece moved in to replace the broken one

and the mountain moved on unimpeded.

I saw something like an arm reach out

and grab a vehicle full of soldiers

who could do nothing but stare and hold on to the frame

as they were lifted a mile into the air

and dropped into the fire.

I wanted to go and help -

so many now were crawling towards the sea,

towards water.

But the smoke was thick and I could not breathe,

and darkness took me.



Today, I awoke to silence.

One of my neighbors, Maria, had found me in the street

and pulled me into her home.

The haze is gone

they say the wind carried it south

with the mountain of fire

towards La Paz.

I walk now but do not see

nor do I hear

nor can I speak.

The hills where tía Elaina and the cousins live

are gone.

The mountain crawled over them

and left nothing in its wake but fires

and smoke.

Nobody is crawling towards the sea now.

All the corpses have stopped moving.

Maria tells me that maybe mama and Felicia escaped

that they were perhaps late in arriving at tía Elaina's house.

She says perhaps they are coming home now.

But she did not see the mountain of fire.

She did not see the engines of damnation.

She did not look into the eyes of death

and feel the heat off its screaming mechanisms.



I know mama and Felicia are not coming home.

I know how they spent their final moments -

praying

burning

choking

suffocating.

They did not escape the mountain of fire

because nothing escaped the mountain of fire.




As for me?




I will tend to the farm

and the house.

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