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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

I completed a PhD at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. Previously, I taught for 20 years and taught for 15 years in a wonderful hybrid school. My dissertation topic and research were how certain teachers experience becoming who teachers. In teaching and leanring, I am a boundary-crosser who understands moving ahead is a leap of faith. Teaching is a calling and vocation to express who I am as a person. Currently, I am waiting and listening to what calls me next. I am an educator, phenomenologist, scholar, boundary-crosser, published poet, author, parent, grandparent, and spouse.

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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