527: Rabbits and Fire

527: Rabbits and Fire

527: Rabbits and Fire


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger lately. How easy it is to become enraged and then to let that rage absorb me until I’ve gone through my whole day spreading rage and encouraging rage. From the outside, I would imagine it looks like foolishness. I think about social media and how fury is contagious.

Like any human, I’m susceptible to this contagion. When I’m worried or anxious, I feel like my partner should also be worried or anxious. When I want to operate at a ten, I think everyone should be operating at a ten. Researchers have found that anger is much more likely to spread on social media than other emotions. We think we’re sharing cat memes, but really we’re retweeting toxicity. 

One of the reasons today’s poem is a long time favorite of mine, is that it’s an allegory for how quickly humans can become consumed by their own fury and pain. Fair warning, this poem does describe animals facing grave danger, so if you want to skip this episode please do. For me, this poem is not just about the non-human animal, but about how the human animal spreads their own uncontained wildfire.

I do think this poem, as hard as it is to hear, wants us to recognize how pain spreads and maybe, for once, try to stop it. Try our best to put out the fire instead of spreading it to all ends of the earth.

Rabbits and Fire
by Alberto Ríos

Everything’s been said
But one last thing about the desert,
And it’s awful: During brush fires in the Sonoran desert,
Brush fires that happen before the monsoon and in the great,
Deep, wide, and smothering heat of the hottest months,
The longest months,
The hypnotic, immeasurable lulls of August and July—
During these summer fires, jackrabbits—
Jackrabbits and everything else
That lives in the brush of the rolling hills,
But jackrabbits especially—
Jackrabbits can get caught in the flames,
No matter how fast and big and strong and sleek they are.
And when they’re caught,
Cornered in and against the thick
Trunks and thin spines of the cactus,
When they can’t back up any more,
When they can’t move, the flame—
It touches them,
And their fur catches fire.
Of course, they run away from the flame,
Finding movement even when there is none to be found,
Jumping big and high over the wave of fire, or backing
Even harder through the impenetrable
Tangle of hardened saguaro
And prickly pear and cholla and barrel,
But whichever way they find,
What happens is what happens: They catch fire
And then bring the fire with them when they run.
They don’t know they’re on fire at first,
Running so fast as to make the fire
Shoot like rocket engines and smoke behind them,
But then the rabbits tire
And the fire catches up,
Stuck onto them like the needles of the cactus,
Which at first must be what they think they feel on their skins.
They’ve felt this before, every rabbit.
But this time the feeling keeps on.
And of course, they ignite the brush and dried weeds
All over again, making more fire, all around them.
I’m sorry for the rabbits.
And I’m sorry for us
To know this.

"Rabbits and Fire" from THE SMALLEST MUSCLE IN THE HUMAN BODY by Alberto Ríos, copyright © 2002 Alberto Ríos. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.