Rings of Fire

Honolulu, Hawaii

We host our daughter’s first birthday party
during the hottest April in history.

Outside, my dad grills meat over charcoal;
inside, my mom steams rice and roasts

vegetables. They’ve traveled from California,
where drought carves trees into tinder—‘Paradise

is burning.’ When our daughter’s first fever spiked,
the doctor said, ‘It’s a sign she’s fighting infection.’

Bloodshed surges with global temperatures,
which know no borders. ‘If her fever doesn’t break,’

the doctor continued, ‘take her to the Emergency
Room.’ Airstrikes detonate hospitals

in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan . . .
‘When she crowned,’ my wife said, ‘it felt like rings

of fire.’ Volcanoes erupt along Pacific fault lines;
sweltering heatwaves scorch Australia;

forests in Indonesia are razed for palm oil plantations—
their ashes flock, like ghost birds, to our distant

rib cages. Still, I crave an unfiltered cigarette,
even though I quit years ago, and my breath

no longer smells like my grandpa’s overflowing ashtray—
his parched cough still punctures the black lungs

of cancer and denial. ‘If she struggles to breathe,’
the doctor advised, ‘give her an asthma inhaler.’

But tonight we sing, ‘Happy Birthday,’ and blow
out the candles together. Smoke trembles

as if we all exhaled
the same flammable wish.

“Rings of Fire” was used with permission of the author, and comes from the book Habitat Threshold, Copyright © 2020, published by Omnidawn.