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Fire by Judy Brown

This poem sat on my desk for the past week and Silence motivated me to share what silence, as space, provides in our lives.

What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.

So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between

as much as the wood.

When we are able3 to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned to pile on the logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and absence of the fuel

together, that makes fire possible.

We only need lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire


simply because the space is there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.

Silence offers the space between words in our life; a pause, momentary silence for reflection, and a soft, gentle breath of air adding life to our words.

About ivonprefontaine

In keeping with bell hooks and Noam Chomsky, I consider myself a public and dissident intellectual. Part of my work is to move beyond (transcend) institutional dogmas that bind me to defend freedom, raising my voice to be heard on behalf of those who seek equity and justice in all their forms. I completed my PhD in Philosophy of Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA. My dissertation and research was how teachers experience becoming teachers and their role as leaders. I focus on leading, communicating, and innovating in organizations. This includes mindfuful servant-leadership, World Cafe events, Appreciative Inquiry, and expressing one's self through creativity. I offer retreats, workshops, and presentations that can be tailored to your organzations specific needs. I published peer reviewed articles about schools as learning organizations, currere as an ethical pursuit, and hope as an essential element of adult eductaion. I published three poems and am currently preparing my poetry to publish as an anthology of poetry. I present on mindful leadership, servant leadership, schools as learning organizations, how teachers experience becoming teachers, assessement, and critical thinking. I facilitate mindfulness, hospitality retreats. and World Cafe Events using Appreciative Inquiry. I am writing and researching about various forms of leadership, how teachers inform and form their identity as a particular teacher, schools as learning organizations, hope and its anticipatory relationship with the future, and hope as an essential element in learning.

9 responses »

  1. barbarahummel

    Fire is one of my all-time favorite poems. I’ve often used it in retreat settings, and I have yet to have anyone not connect with it. Judy hit a homer run when she wrote it!

    • It came from Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner’s Leading from Within. I know you contributed to one (I think to Teaching with Fire) of the books he helped to compile. There are so many wonderful poems in the two books compiled to date.

    • Barb and Ivon, I once had a group take issue with the science of fire as described in the poem. I tried to encourage them to sit with the metaphor and see their reflection in it, but a few of them had trouble getting past what they saw as a flaw in the poem. Fortunately, I’ve never had that issue since. (And as a History major, I had no idea what they were talking about anyway!)

      • I know teaching poetry to junior high students how challenging it can be to have them get beyond the literal meaning of poetry. Once they do, the wholeness and complexity of words and life through literal and figurative meaning is more readily revealed. The abstract flows with the concrete.

  2. Thanks for this Ivan. I absolutely love Leading from Within and this great poem, too. I’m also a huge fan of Francesca Zelnick’s marvellous powers of observation. Delighted to make your acquaintance and to follow your blog.

  3. Thanks Ivan-at this stage of my life I interpreted this poem as a view of how friendships should be built. Give them space & time to grow and gain strength. Don’t crowd them or become to needy.

    • This poem is so open to personal interpretation and metaphor. It is what drew me to it. Strong, healthy relationships are built on the paradox of closeness and separation through unspoken trust. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Pingback: Professional Learning Communities at Work by Dufour and Eaker « Teacher as Transformer

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