Emily as Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire by Darren C. Demaree is exactly the bright, crackling ode that its title suggests. Emily is a dynamic shapeshifter, assuming nature’s many forms, from human to flower to debris. The poems in this collection are certainly heavy with the stumbling navigation of love and vulnerability, but they are also light and airy in their artful presentation. Emily is fashioned as our fleet of foot guide through her own love letter.

“she wants me
much longer than
I’ve ever wanted myself.”

Emily has a way of reflecting our emotions back at us like a mirror. She is a gentle, accepting companion to always be depended on, as “she wants me / much longer than / I’ve ever wanted myself.” Despite the perpetual ambiguity surrounding her physical appearance, it is made clear time and time again that Emily is loved and loves in return. Love runs, of course, hand in hand with pain. We catch ourselves apologizing for failing to prevent pain, when sometimes it is as natural and unstoppable as gravity. We can love people and hate them at the same time; sometimes we desire what is not right for us. We can want to be with someone but also push them away.

“We could live in a hundred different towns / & be a hundred different people / & love each other a hundred different ways,” Demaree writes. He paints Emily as a soft comfort, illustrating with a myriad of symbolisms and personifications how she is always needed and appreciated. She has moments of mistakes and incompatibility, but these are merely bumps in the road she continues to travel, unwavering. She always returns when she leaves, and she somehow leaves her unique mark even in places she has never been. She is a quiet whisper of resolve, her own conflict and resolution.

These poems highlight funny family moments sitting at the dinner table and moving furniture, and also tender times too, the empty answers to sexual propositions and panic about the pressure of outliving your children. Death is an imporant weight hovering through the pages of this collection, as Emily seems almost ethereal in her constant, ever-changing presence. She is styled several times as walking naked in the yard, drunk and sober, dangerous and innocent. She is both blinding and blinded; if she’s real you’ll see her body, and if she’s not you’ll see her ghost.

“We could live in a hundred different towns
& be a hundred different people
& love each other a hundred different ways”

Reading about Emily inspires rapture and reverence. One can easily find oneself swept up in all-encompassing preoccupation with her, such that one might say, “if I was meant to say / God’s name I ruined it / by whispering Emily.” This poetry collection can be considered a patchwork of our fragmented humanity, showing us all of the sharp edges and lasting impressions of our mortality. We live on in the memories of those who love us. In this way, we are timeless, non-shattering, endlessy contradictory.

Most people, like Emily, are multi-faceted, alternately terrifying and sentimental depending on the circumstances. These poems show us several faces of one beloved being. It is difficult to not be intrigued, and near impossible to ignore the question of what other things Emily could possibly be. Emily, Emily, Emily – despite her repetition, she is always refreshing and new.

Keep up with Demaree’s work by checking out his website,, and keep one eye on the lookout for Emily. As this poetry collection emphasizes, she can be anything anywhere, and more Emily poems have been published in several different places after this collection was released.

(Harpoon Books, Poetry, 2019)

BETHANY MARY has studied both health science and creative writing, and currently works as a medical scribe in Alabama. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and read submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. She rants and shares photos of her ragdoll cats on Twitter @bethanylmary.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.