Tuesday, November 12, 2019


Kenny A. Chaffin
All Rights Reserved © 2014 Kenny A. Chaffin

They call us smokejumpers but that’s a misnomer, we never jump into smoke if it can be avoided and it can always be avoided. It’s just a sexy, headline-grabbing moniker for what is a dirty, difficult, dangerous job.

After the Crystal Mountain fire Janie left me again. She said she couldn’t deal with not knowing if I’d be back or not. I sometimes think she doesn’t understand my work, how important it is and the care, safety and conviction we take in doing it. We almost always come home. I love her. I do. With her it feels more real than ever, but I’m torn by her reluctant support. Can’t she see this is my passion, my love? I’m a smokejumper. We save lives, the environment, perhaps even the world from global warming.

My dreams are of fire. It does not frighten me. It is warm, welcoming.

At first you do it for the thrill, the rush. Like wild passionate sex. It consumes you, draws you in. There’s building anticipation as the plane makes its way to the drop zone, your heart pounds as you step into the air and slows as silence engulfs you while drifting towards the ground.

All relationships are difficult, but more so when you’re a smokejumper. You can be called out any time of day or night for unknown durations. Even the military has better defined time-frames for deployment, leave, and duty. For smokejumpers it’s all up to the fire. Almost all of us are single, some in relationships, a few married – mostly the firebosses who somehow find a way to make it work. We don’t talk about relationships. On the fireline there’s no time for that anyway. We’re overwhelmed with clearing brush, digging firebreaks, setting backfires.

You do it for those that died. The fourteen on Storm King Mountain in Colorado, the nineteen Granite Mountain Hotshots on Yarnell Hill in Arizona, the twenty-nine at Griffith Park, California; Three hundred in the last ten years.

A wildfire burns at 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. It can consume you. You must constantly be on guard. We jump from planes to reach the fire in the backcountry before it gets out of control. With a forest fire you know exactly what you are up against.

They drop us in and once on site we establish a fireline, a perimeter. We fight the fire by clearing fuel it would burn, often by setting a backfire. When our work is done we pack out to the nearest access point. On rare occasions they transport us out by chopper if there is a base nearby.

Before Janie it was Mary. She was a vixen. We did it everywhere – in the car, in the shower, in the woods, in the elevator and yes we joined the mile-high club on a flight from Denver to Seattle. It was pure passion, pure raging sex. She was a wildfire.

The cones of the Lodgepole pine are sealed with a resin that requires fire to release the seeds. This is an evolutionary adaptation to wildfire called pyriscence.

Fire can be fast, passionate, intense, like first-time sex. Each fire has its own personality. Some are torrid and tempestuous others slow and sordid but all have the power to destroy.  The first time Janie and I made love I lost myself in her. It was a week after the Wind Ridge fire. She said she could smell the smoke in my hair.

Have you ever watched a wildfire move? It can be forceful, overpowering -- crowning, flashing and torching trees as it races across the forest and up slopes in a vortex of conflagration. It can be gentle like a first-time lover, moving slowly and carefully across the forest; caressing, embracing and loving the trees with its warmth.

The tools we use are minimal, a pulaski -- a combination axe and grub hoe, our helmets, protective clothing and fire shelters. That’s it. One-on-one, man against wildfire, digging a firebreak, setting a backfire, working with air support if we are lucky enough to have it.

It was the Rawlings Ridge fire that got us, climbing the hill in a swirling blast-furnace updraft, preheating and consuming everything in its path. We had only precious seconds to deploy our shelters and the rocky slope was a poor place to survive a wildfire. Jonathan didn’t. The rest of us are lucky to have made it, me with third degree burns on my back, and right arm, the others with similar injuries. Only Carol came away unscathed, having found an optimal place to dig in.

Janie was waiting at the hospital when I arrived. She never said it, but I knew from the look in her eyes, it would be the last time.

I’ve been through the initial healing, the therapies. Will need additional grafting, regrowth and recovery of muscle tone and I will never be as flexible as I once was, but I’ve had time to think, to realize and to know that the only time I am alive and at peace with myself is when fighting a wildfire. It consumes me, thrills me, centers me. It makes me who I am. Janie is gone, but the fire still rages. I will jump again.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

But What about the Older DryAss

But What about the Older DryAss
Kenny A. Chaffin
All Rights Reserved © 2019 Kenny A. Chaffin

Now they say the Younger Dryas
was caused by a comet or asteroid
wiping out the megafauna
of North America 12,000 ya
and cooling the world climate

Took out the Clovis people
mostly as well or they had
to eat roots and berries
til the fauna thundered
across the drained inland sea
after those ice dams burst

at least there were no more
saber tooth tigers to deal with
with those sticks and stones

‘merika was wonderful and free
but that was before Columbus
before the European plague

Sacre’ bleu, Donner and Blitzen
all your bison are belong to U.S.

Kenny A. Chaffin – 10/28/2019

Friday, October 11, 2019

Where Dark Angels Tread

Where Dark Angels Tread
Kenny A. Chaffin
All Rights Reserved © 2017 Kenny A. Chaffin

The reports were at first sporadic. Dark shadows in alleyways, behind buildings, in basements. Things seen from the corner of your eye but gone when you turn. A blackness blacker than black seemingly absorbing light from around it. Reports from Jacksonville, Amarillo, Tucson, L.A. By the time the media took note it was clear the shadows, the reports, were moving in waves, arcs, growing in strength and frequency. A wave of darkness moving east across the country like weather, like earthquake tremors but reversed, moving together, towards an epicenter, growing stronger, more focused on the Potomac, on the White House.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

They Do

They Do
Kenny A. Chaffin
All Rights Reserved © 2019 Kenny A. Chaffin

People do. In red
or black or blue.
They do. In urine-
stained pants they
do, they just do.

Kenny A. Chaffin – 7/16/2019

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Problem with Ernest Hemingway

The Problem with Ernest Hemingway
Kenny A. Chaffin
All Rights Reserved © 2019 Kenny A. Chaffin

No one can write like that sissy
that put a shotgun in his mouth
and blew the top of his head off.

Why would you want to
if that’s how it all turns out
and it does, it always does.

Trust me I’ve seen it
I’ve studied it, I’ve
felt it in my bones

Cold brittle bones
of the aged, the decrepit
the desirous

Only the first sentence matters
It must be true
Everything follows from that

all the way to the end
the gun, the brains,
the blood on the ceiling.

Kenny A. Chaffin – 5/29/2019

Sunday, May 12, 2019

On Mother's Day

On Mother’s Day
Kenny A. Chaffin
All Rights Reserved © 2019 Kenny A. Chaffin

To all the mothers that died in childbirth
screaming agony. Did the child die too?
Are you the child? Will you die
in childbirth as well? Will you abort
for fear of dying? Will you imagine
your imaginary mother with all her
perfections and none of the pain?
The whipping your butt? Sending
you to your room? Loving you?

Kenny A. Chaffin – 5/12/2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Tires wins December 2018 IBPC Contest

My poems - “Tires” - won the December IBPC Contest!

You can read it and the judge's comments and other selections here:


Kenny A. Chaffin
All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kenny A. Chaffin

I’m glad you got new tires
I wouldn’t have thought of that
unless the weather got bad
and you were on the road.

I don’t think of much of anything
these days, just sit in front
of the TV or computer not
thinking, not even reading

much any more. Sometimes
making words like these
on paper or sometimes
not even that.

Kenny A. Chaffin – 11/11/2018