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Photo Credit:
Fabrizio Darold

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phto

Cyrus Cassells




THE MEANING OF THIS FIRE


In the live-or-die indigo
adjacent to dawn,

gruff as a thunderclap, my vigorous
father roused me:

Get up!
The Germans are headed our way!

Jon, be brave!
You've got to be brave!

I need you to help me
set the farm on fire!


Then, in a whirlwind, he bellowed
to my abashed mother:

By God, whoever we are,
we won't become quislings;

No, we won't turn
traitor-cold!


I was only a cow-licked boy,
still I grasped

straightaway: in the ecstasy
of a fox-colored dawn,

soon our swaggering enemies would find
no village to conquer,

just gaping blackness,
unwelcoming ash—

Handing me a defiant torch
that, in a headlong fury, would immolate

my picture books,
my spelling ribbon, my treasured

miniature easel,
my fast-thinking father declared:

Jon, I know it's hard.
Someday you'll understand:

the point,
the meaning of this fire

is freedom!



Oslo, 2006



Note:

One form of Norwegian resistance was to burn down the houses in rural areas to keep the Nazis from occupying them. The word quisling to signify a traitor entered our language in response to the Norwegian politician Viklund Quisling's dramatic capitulation to the Nazi invasion of Norway. This poem was inspired by the comments of Vivian Norris, who invited me to Norway, and by a visit to the Norwegian Resistance Museum in Oslo.