The Air Has Changed

A photograph of a denuded area overseen by a single remaining tree
Photos from the aftermath of the McDougall Creek wildfire of August 2023 by Andreas Rutkauskas

After the wildfires, 2023

Grief sits in the bottom of my lungs — 
maybe I cradle it there so I can breathe
every spore, every whiff of a slivering
land and an unfurling chest — 
so I can say I have lived through the worst
of the fires. That grief colors the dusk
spectral orange and this is all of us — 
struggling to breathe. My lungs

recognize the scent of death
on a human being’s shoulder. I hear
it, too, before it announces its roaring down
a mountain. I feel it on my nape, nighttime, 
when the squirrels have buried chestnuts
and lost their way back to the grave. I swallow
grief from dreams — from everyone’s breath
as they punctuate their words with restraint
that holds back acres of burned skin. Grief 

skids and writhes out of my twin organs 
into whatever I touch: this love, my child,
songs of my ancestors in a war-torn city,
this lake — innocent. I exhale to conceive
space in my body for our dying — there they are
on the other side of the lake, they wait. 

They found their way out of this maze 
of blisters. I admire the tenacity it has taken
them to look away from the burning, averting
their eyes and allowing grief to digest
their bodies. Meanwhile, I stay with this friend
inside me. I sing silently the songs my dad
teased my mother with. I celebrate 
the end of this season of preciousness — 
where each life mattered even for a brief

moment. You know what I live with.
I have tasted the end on both sides 
of the equator. Our chests take collective 
breaths but the sprinkling of black soot 
remains. There must be no pathway 
out of the inevitable except to stop
and breathe in this smog. 

These lives clinging to the back of our necks, 
strangling us in a chokehold — I inhale a breath
to resist the collapse of a chest. 
Some air to run with; some lips to sing with. 
Some grief to sit on as we witness
the skies plume another tornado to burn. 

A photograph of a burned out forest
Photos from the aftermath of the McDougall Creek wildfire of August 2023 by Andreas Rutkauskas


Rina Garcia Chua (she/her/siya) is a creative and critical scholar from the Philippines who is currently based in unceded tm'xʷúlaʔxʷ (lands) of the syilx / Okanagan peoples. She is completing her poetry collection, A Geography of (Un)Natural Hazards, which is a visual and poetic response to environmental injustice in migrant cultures and liminal spaces.