Fireroad (for Chris Whitley) by Max Heinegg


What can you keep clear
of all that can catch?
I’ve found a fireroad
wide enough for engines,
to reach the reservoir.

I listen to his songs of containment.
From one measure of ash,
from one refrain,
a secular blessing
drifts, is granted.

As I leave the nightly fire,
I give my trust to the grate & stone
floor, that it won’t catch
on the rug’s edge, climb
to where my children sleep.
We’ve no wings to rise above
a blaze & no nest but this.

When we met on Landsdowne St.
he was skeletal, in a white wife-beater,
his resonator a beacon, and his cigarette tucked
behind the nut, his voice easy fire.
I said “Dirt Floor is my generation’s Pink Moon,”
rehearsed, finger on my lighter,
nervous as new flame.

Absent of faith,
we find our burning bush in singers,
call them conduits, fan their souls
but warmed, let them smolder,
absent air.

In the space that waits for grace notes,
the bluesman will refashion floating verses,
tuned to himself, sliding from the Bowery
to Belgium, from the big sky to Berlin.

In his bowler hat, in mid-day Vermont foot-stomps
the voice kept vigil;
as the National steel sang a scrapyard lullaby,
he swept the dirt floor, kept it clear.

After love and the cells sicken,
the things we wanted for ourselves
sleep in the fire’s forgiveness,
each song gone out as well.

The living look for maps in the ash.
Not a guide, he left the trail
of himself to water,
nothing left to burn.

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