In Always on Fire, Milton J. Bates provides his compelling answer to the question Mary Oliver poses us in her poem “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
His response is a body of poetry that relies on an eye called to the beauty of the natural world and habits of daily life that cultivate peace and reflection. But underneath that composure, surfacing occasionally, are crises of mortality.
The first poem in the collection, the one that provides its title, establishes how the emergencies of existence spur us toward pleasure and enjoyment:
Who’d ever guess that we sipped coffee
as the sun came up, spent most days working,
touched each other in the dark? Pictures
don’t lie. But they keep secrets, including
this one: the house is always on fire.
Always on Fire is about a fierce passion for living, as much as it is about the ghostly absences that mark our days, making the present moment ever more meaningful.