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Rings of Fire, 2016

Honolulu, Hawaii

We host a small family party to celebrate
my daughter's second birthday. This year

is the hottest in history, breaking the record
set when she was born. Still, I grill meat

over charcoal and watch smoke crawl
through air like the spirits of sacrificial

animals. Still, I crave a cigarette, even after
quitting five years ago, even after my clothes

no longer smell like my grandpa's tobacco
breath (his oxygen tank still scratches the tiled

floor of memory and denial). My dad joins me
outside and says, "Son, when I die, scatter

my ashes to the ocean, far from this heat."
Inside, my mom is cooking rice and steaming

vegetables. They've traveled from California,
where millions of trees have become tinder

after years of drought, fueling catastrophe.
When my daughter's body first hosted fever,

the doctor said, "It's a sign she's fighting
infection." Volcanoes erupt along fault lines

and disrupt flight patterns; massive flames
force thousands to evacuate tar sands

oil country. When we can't control fire,
we name it "wild" and pray to God for rain;

when we can't control God, we name it "war"
and pray to votives for peace. "If her fever

doesn't break," the doctor said, "take her
to emergency." Violence rises with the temper-

ature, which knows no borders; air strikes
detonate hospitals in countries whose names
are burnt fossils: Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan,

South Sudan, Iraq . . . "When she crowned,"
my wife said, "it felt like rings of fire."

Garment factories in Bangladesh char and
collapse; refugees self-immolate at a detention

center on Nauru; forests across Indonesia
are razed for palm oil plantations, their plumes,

like the ashen ghosts of birds, flock to our distant
rib cages. When my daughter can't breathe,

we give her an asthma inhaler. But tonight,
we sing happy birthday and blow out

the candles together. The smoke trembles,
as if we all exhaled the same, flammable wish.

Craig Santos Perez

Tin House

Volume 19, Number 1

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