Six years dead, Dad rakes the old year’s rags together,
the chestnut’s jaundiced hands, embers of elm.
His footprints thaw the frost that hoars the grass,

but, like sparks or static, he stutters in and out of focus.
Sunlight amber as whiskey, stretched shadows.
The Bramley lit with fruit that wasps have hulled.

An earlier October. Aberdeen. Dad called from the Emirates.
“Mum picked the last pear. There was ice
on the playground.” “It’s forty-five here – I’m sunburnt.”

Other autumns. Dad standing under the conker tree,
the smell of mouldering leaves. I reached the trunk’s lowest knot.
Bristling husks and weighty, dark-eyed seeds.

Hingeing years. Dad clipping oleanders.
Date palms, first drops pocking the sand. Desert thunder
over the glass-and-tarmac city. Geckos scurried up the kitchen wall.

And later still. He sawed an infected limb
of the Bramley, mistletoe creeping with white roots
in the wood’s veins, draining it. That tree still leafs.

Now he heaps twigs and mildewed apples.
On the wind, the smell of that summer
the moor caught light, mixed with mould and spores.

He pours the spirit, flicks the lighter,
cusses when the flame spits, then whistles Santana
as he works the rake around the stragglers.

The leaves are dank and mulching, slow to catch,
but as the smoke curls, woodlice start their exodus,
millipedes unscroll – dashes from a singed page,

a red admiral zigzags, the edge of a blackened letter.
“Here, chicken, help me with these logs.”
The bonfire rises to my height. Sweat beads his brow,

he seems not to notice his best shirt is smouldering
(he wore it to his funeral). “Keep feeding it!”
I inch towards him, until its heat is on my face,

come so close I fear my cheeks will blister.
Ash in my eyes. Ash at the back of my throat.
I reach out, although it scorches, before he leaves –
I try to throw my arms around his neck.
Three times, I’m hugged by smoke.

Yvonne Reddick is a poet, nature writer, environmental humanities researcher, and climber. Her books include Burning Season (Bloodaxe, 2023), Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet (Palgrave, 2017) and Anthropocene Poetry (Palgrave, 2023). Her poems have been published in The Guardian Review and The New Statesman, and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and North West Tonight. For her academic work, she has shown how Seamus Heaney sold bog-poems to raise funds for bog conservation, and detailed Ted Hughes’s petitioning of politicians about water pollution. With the filmmaker Aleksander Domanski, she made the nature film Searching for Snow Hares. Her latest nature writing project, Fire on Winter Hill, looks at mountains, climbing, climate change and the impacts of the oil industry. She is Reader in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Central Lancashire.