Poetry from Christopher Bernard

The Invention of Fire
By Christopher Bernard

Fiery hand against black background








One day I heard on a street of this city –

billionnaire ville of high tech and IT,

cultured pearl of Silicon Valley,

capital of the 21st century,

San Francisco of the crazed and the crazy –

a man laugh out, “Whatever you do,

or think you can do, there’s one thing you can’t do:

you can’t disinvent technology!”

But, darling, what if we could, you and me,

undo the long golden chain of human

marvels and practical disasters, back

to the wild dawn of it all? What if we could

unpave, unpollute, unpoison the world

that we are destroying with our civilized life,

that Frankenstein’s monster of terror and sweat?

—The cell phone suddenly melts in my hand

like a Milky Way left too long in the sun.

The laptop wrinkles like an autumn leaf,

the desktop goes up in a puff of smoke

at the sparrow’s pass of a magician’s wand,

goes up with a smell of burning wood.

Servers curdle like bottles of milk.

GPS goes out like a light.

Monitors line up like dead fish on the sand.

Abruptly vanishes the World Wide Web

like a spider’s cobweb catching humans like flies,

and with it the stranglehold of the internet.

A wind picks up over the empty land:

it blows forests of sky dishes away,

flocks of radios, stereophonic herds,

the clotted brainpans of obsessive nerds,

landfills clogged with wireless TVs,

movie cameras, projectors – not those! – yes, those

too – molten flash drives and CPUs,

busses and rockets and snowboards and skis,

rollerblades, Velcro and nonstick pans,

silicon chips reduced to sand,

rare earth metals melting down with smartphones,

the burnt-out husks of intelligent homes,

trains and steamships and telegraphs and sails

crossing the seas like clouds of white whales,

skyscrapers and skylights, iron alloys and glass,

the first lawnmowers smelling of cut grass,

and the central beast at the heart of the wheel:

the million-headed Hydra, the automobile;

the casket elevator, the pick, the spade,

the tackle and hook of a cable of braid,

the IUD, pill, the condom, bidet,

vaginal rings and penis pumps

(the tech of pleasure isn’t spared its lumps),

Glocks and anklets, in vitro wombs,

water-sealed coffins and virtual tombs,

warheads and nylons and nuclear bombs:

the wind of time in reverse sweeping away

everything we invented: the plough, the clock,

the spectacles on the pimpled nose of a monk,

dreadnaughts, all dreading, at long last sunk,

pencil, parchment, typewriter, quill,

propeller, salt cellar, egg-beater, scythe,

horseshoe nail and dentist drill,

uncool change lane and cool Swiss knife:

everything that fell from the war of life

into our far too-clever brains

that are never satisfied and never tire,

back to the beginning of everything until

we lie down again in the mud of a cave

and, snuggling together, as we know best,

disinvent the one we can blame for the rest:

the two sticks that first rubbed together into flames.

See? All gone! It couldn’t be done?

We’ve done it, you and me, in the course

of a little fantasy and, with apologies, verse.

But then, I never needed any of it.

I have needed you, deep as I am in the mire.

Each time we embrace, we invent fire.


Christopher Bernard is author of A Spy in the Ruins, In the American Night, 
and The Rose Shipwreck. He is also co-editor of Caveat Lector. 
His poetry can be found at his blog, “The Bog of St. Philinte.”

Image from Fire Fire Fire.