Seared trunks poked twenty feet
through the pumice crust, skinned
and ground to a point. Everything was
moonscape, ash, except for the sulfuric
yellow steam that hissed through fissures
at our feet. We walked the rift zone
as far as we dared, to the edge of the caldera,
remembering Isabella Bird, who burned
her boot soles off climbing into the crater’s
gut in 1873. Our stomachs swam
like schools of unruly fish as we stared
down, into that smoky bowl.


There was a story my mother often told:
two lovers, the girl’s family against it.
He killed her then jumped with her
dead body, carrying it like a groom
across the threshold, for good luck.
Almost immediately, the rising heat
from the crater blasted them apart.
My mother saw them down there, said
she was wearing a red silk kimono,
looked like a red hibiscus down there,
growing from the ledge that ended
her fall. They used pulleys, mother said,
and cranes to retrieve them; the parents
of the boy wouldn’t come. A paid
volunteer was lowered in a bamboo cage.
He brought his lunch along in a basket
and ate it, dangling there like a garden
spider in Pele’s fumes. The man died
six months later. A freak accident,
they said, but everyone knew:
Don’t take what belongs to Pele...


On the long hike back to the Uwekahuna
Observatory, we discovered infant ferns,
a few fishbone fronds, the furred coils
of fiddleheads—such a bright, such a tender
green fire against so much destruction.

Later I picked up one olivine pebble,
a souvenir for home. Then I put it back.

Susan Kelly-DeWitt | Mudlark No. 33
Contents | Night in Manoa Valley