The Sunday Poem: Susy Crandall... Cosmic Smudging (Or Living in New Mexico Burning)

 Even before scientists can put those forest fires into perspective, poets find ways to do it.  Here Susy Crandall makes sense of the world she sees and breathes.


I am practically a native New Mexican, been here since 1960, practice occupational therapy in early intervention, write with Teresa Phillips' Monday night writing group where this poem had its genesis.  I write to ease the angst of worlds burning, worlds becoming ever more irradiated, where the powerful steal from the poor to give to the rich, ad infinitum.  I do think my poem reflects just a little the idea of sinning and sinning.  We're held accountable in certain belief systems and political (systems) for behavior that is essentially creative, i.e., the free expression of our sexuality, but not accountable for behavior that is essentially destructive, i.e., creation and use of atomic energy, and the many other ways we find to abuse our planet.



Cosmic Smudging

(or Living in New Mexico Burning)


some say smoke is


and we've had

enough now


to scrub off
a multitude of sins

and hang them

out to dry


in sheets of ash

on our clotheslines


sin ash, to let the


fire feeding

wind blow away


sin ash,

that dusts my car


in the morning

smoke gets in your eyes

they burn and tear up


when someone blows smoke my way

I blow it right back and
sometimes it vanishes

and sometimes it’s
an anvil
on my



life is a barbecue

right now


flavored with

smoke the winds




this way and that

smoke in plumes of

feathers that

tickle my nose


children and

the wayward elderly

must beware of the smoke

that swallow’s ‘em up

in one swell foop


never to be seen again

on this side


of the ether


smoke stretches

a lazy grey cat


on a sunny window-seat

in my brain


and I have all the answers

for a while

and pleasure is







but they dissipate,

pleasures and questions

and I am left with answers

disassociated answers

answers in search

of their questions


lonely and lost

with burning eyes and

tears in their




--Susy Crandall




Poetry submissions are encouraged.  Email

Views: 118

Comment by Dee Cohen on June 20, 2011 at 7:43am
Hi Susy, Thanks for sharing this timely poem. I like the way smoke dissolves and reforms in your poem, on clotheslines, as cats; just as it changes in life. Best, Dee
Comment by Victor Gomez on June 20, 2011 at 4:01pm
No one can explain definitively why we now have so many more make things better they kicked grass eating cattle down in numbers in the forest they say to improve the fires spreads more rapidly than ever if it all burns don't we have less for having more? During the early days of smoke I completely lost my voice by afternoon where I live.
Comment by Susy Crandall on June 20, 2011 at 10:35pm

It's all confusing, where did our spring monsoon go this year?  I just heard that the Arapahoe Ski Basin in Colorado just got 18 inches of snow.  That seems late even for Colorado.  Those tornadoes in the midwest just keep getting bigger.  Texas, Arizona and NM are burning up, the east and midwest are flooding and what is happening with that nuclear situation in Nebraska????

Comment by BurqueBinder on June 21, 2011 at 7:54pm

Thanks for the poem. 


The combination of poor fire restriction policies over about the past century, a lack of sufficient forest thinning/prescribed burns, and a much drier year than normal are resulting in the monstrous fires. 

Susy, I'm not sure though what you mean by "spring monsson."  Spring has always been the driest time of the year in the southwest.  Hopefully the summer rains arrive soon though...

Comment by Johnny_Mango on June 21, 2011 at 9:36pm


NOTHING, not thinning, burns, policies, or more cows (Victor) could have prevented what is happening this year.  I just drove from here to Atlanta and back and the whole southern half of our country is in a drought.  Texas is so dry a match in the grass burns thousands of acres.  No thinning for grassfires.  We can only hope that it is "a much drier year than normal."


It is just as possible that this is the new "normal."  If it is, there won't be a steer left in Texas...nothing to eat there.  And the forests?  Just one fire here ate up 500,000 acres.  That is the size of the entire Gila Wilderness.  One fire.


Don't minimize the danger of wild swings in weather and climate.  There is too much at stake.  Look at Chaco.  Look at the dust storms of the thirties.  It has all happened here before.  This time it might be prairie fires and charred mountains instead of dust.


As to blame...or cause...that is not really open to least scientific debate.  Whether or not to try to ameliorate the carbonizing of the atmosphere, that is another question.  Frankly I feel that some in this country would just as soon see the world fall apart.


Nice poem Susy.  Spoken from the heart by a person breathing the smoke and looking at the flames.

Comment by BurqueBinder on June 24, 2011 at 7:22pm

Fires are certainly part of the ecosystem around these parts, and an argument could certainly be made that nothing could be done to prevent fires with weather this dry.  However, the type and extent of the fires that we are seeing are due in large part to our forest management practices.  Fire suppression has resulted in areas such as the White mtns and Gila Wilderness where the density of the forest is abnormally high - this results in crown fires - that require a certain level of vegetative density to form. 


Under the forms of forest management prior to the last hundred years, fires were more common, though not as large or destructive as what we see today.  I hope you don't think I'm minimizing the effects of any one of the factors that I believe contributed to our current situation - the weather plays an enormous role, of course.

Comment by Susy Crandall on June 25, 2011 at 12:29pm
Am I crazy for thinking we're at a tipping point in so many ways?  Nuclear power has always been beyond our ability to control for the long term.  Plutonium oxide is like Kurt Vonnegut's Ice 9 from Cat's Cradle ( or even the Midas touch from Greek Legend.  It'll poison us all eventually.   The oceans are dying quicker than ever they thought-- We're fouling our own nest and, besides that, nature teaches that out of control over populated species always eventually die back.  Greed and the profit motive rules all in this world today and makes no sense to our survival because the 'haves' will be carried away equally with the 'have nots' eventually.  It's not like we've got a back up planet waiting in the wings.   We will be, as I said in another sort of poem, the first of earth's children to consciously choose the hour of our own departure.  Sometimes I think the only option I have as an individual is choosing who to be in the face of all of this.  Shall I be fearful and hateful?  I hope not.  I hope not.
Comment by Patricia on June 25, 2011 at 5:34pm

These lines are sensuous:


"smoke stretches

a lazy grey cat


on a sunny window-seat

in my brain"


Thank you for writing this poem, Susy--for giving voice to common experience, for opening a door for conversation.

Comment by Gabriella Duncan on June 26, 2011 at 11:37am

When ashes wash away, it renews our souls.....what  beautiful pictures you paint in poetic prose.  Thank you so much!

Comment by Victor Gomez on July 2, 2011 at 3:41pm
Johnny today there wouldn't be enough cows to populate the forest because so many ranchers have gotten out of the business....I remember well clipped grasslands in the forest areas......that are hardly touched now by cows or other wild life because there has been a reduction in what is allowed  in cattle numbers. Even if the forest service reversed its policies there would not be enough cattle to get the job done. Now I have said I remember the well clipped areas after the I must mention the same area is now abounding oceans of unclipped grass gone to seed and drying every year making an endless ocean of grass connecting vast expanses of forest. End result is how we experience things yearly now, where we use to have spotty fires and a lot of them we now have giant all encompassing spreads. You can see the grass is endless in the pictures of the fires that are currently spreading. One big burn and we lose all that may have been accomplished with our management tactics that have become so "educated and scientific".


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