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Small Fires

I love the smell of birch bark
when it burns. Sometimes
I resist using it to start my small fires,
though, because it seems too fine a substance
for combustion, like these white pages
I light with my pen.

And yet it's there.
There's a lot of it, wrapped,
loosely, around decayed logs
or hanging in ragged tatters
from trees stark and white
in the late fall.

Maybe to burn a bit isn't bad
especially when it gives me
that little pleasure -
the ghostly pleasure of aroma.
It's like the tiny handful
of tobacco I throw on the fire
because I read in a book
(Black Elk, I think), that the Indians
would make a small offering
to their God in the same way.

It is an offering I make, too,
although their God can never be
my God - we are too separated
in time and culture.

But all Gods are really one God,
aren't they? And maybe,
I like to think, maybe
my God enjoys the memory
of being their God.

Maybe God looks down and sees
that it is good, the scent of burning
birch bark, of tobacco, and
of these pages that burn
under my pen.

If I were God, I would.

It is a gift I freely give,
a gift wholly
given. Given not for gain.
I do not eat the meat of the sacrifice.
Poetry does not pay well,
nor does it bring fame,
or the admiration of your peers
who will never read it,
or the love of beautiful women
who misinterpret every line
as if seeking an image of themselves
in a dirty mirror.

The sacrifice I offer
is that of the heart, or soul, or mind,
of the God within to the God without.
It is like the sacrifice of Odin
who hung himself,
pierced by a spear,
for nine days.
An offering, he said,
"Of myself, to myself,"
while the wind blew strips of bark
which fluttered like the carrion birds
circling his head.

It is a thing I do,
for ghostly pleasure,
like the scent of burning birch.

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