Contributor Spotlight: Issa M. Lewis

ISSA M. LEWIS ON “BURNING DAY

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I was inspired to write “Burning Day,” which is appearing in Issue 11 of Split Rock Review, after moving to a small town in west Michigan. I grew up in a sprawling city, so burning leaves by the roadside was simply not done. Once I moved, I realized it was an autumn tradition in rural areas!  Usually on Sundays, my neighbors would pile up all their dead leaves near the roadside and burn them down to ash.  This made for many hazy drives down my smoky street!

Witnessing this ritual several times a season made me think about the ways in which we, as human beings, seek to control both our physical and emotional environments.  Obviously, in forests, leaves stay where they land and rot in their own time, enriching the soil over a long period of time.  But on our own properties, we push them away and burn them—more efficient, perhaps, but still an imposition on nature’s schedule. Similarly, many times we rush to heal after emotional pain, much sooner than we’re really ready.  We purge ourselves of the memories that cause us pain in the hopes that we won’t have to think of them again.  However, the ash pile still remains as a testament.

I find that some poems need time to ripen; I may have an idea and even start jotting down drafts, but never fully complete it until much later.  “Burning Day” is one of these poems that was originally composed years ago and has seen several iterations.  The last two lines are honestly what I stuck with between drafts—that was what I knew I wanted to keep, the emotional center of the poem. Every couple of years I’d revisit it, hoping to find exactly the right trajectory to land me at those lines. The imagery of a rural Michigan autumn was built out around them to emphasize our connection (and sometimes disconnection) with our land and ourselves.  Finally, roughly eight years later, this poem finally emerged!  

My thanks to the editors of Split Rock Review for the opportunity to join this splendid edition—and right in time for autumn!