Fire Creeps In

It occurred to me Monday evening, while preparing to hit the publish button on the poem I had composed, that I often write about fire– in my poetry for certain and now, in my novel, I’ve burned down the cafe. And I suppose fire creeps into a lot of writing. It provides metaphors for all sorts of things: love, lust, war, creativity, warmth, cleansing, refining, life, death, destruction, rebirth…

I felt low that evening, as is sometimes the case after a long day. I’d begun the next chapter of the book, feeling unsatisfied with the way I’d left the previous one. The poem arose from that I think. But as I prepared my dreary little post, I reflected on why fire always seems to creep into MY writing. My approach is mostly from the death, destruction and possibly the cleansing perspectives of fire, rarely from love, lust and passion. And while I hate to psychoanalyze myself, because my mind is a messy, cluttered place these days, I couldn’t help but wonder….

I lost my paternal grandfather in a fire. My father was twenty years my mother’s senior when they married. He at fifty-five, she at thirty-five. My paternal grandparents were already in their eighties when I was born. Grandma Jennings died when I was three and I barely remember her. But Grandpa lived for a few years more. I had a lot more contact with him as a child. And as a result my memories are a lot clearer.

I was six years old when it happened.

Grandpa liked his cigars. He left one smoldering next to his favorite chair one Sunday evening before going up to bed. He must have thought it was safely stored in the ashtray but it wasn’t. The stub of the cigar either rolled or he carelessly dropped it right on the arm of the old upholstered chair. It smoldered. It consumed. It filled the house with smoke. It wasn’t a conflagration, it was a charcoal pit. When, in the light of day, the neighbors realized what was happening and called the fire department, it was too late. But Grandpa had known something was wrong. He had made it back downstairs in the smoke. They found him on the threshold of the front door in his pajamas and dressing gown. A few more steps and he would have been free.

That is the kind of information that a six year old girl most probably should have been sheltered from. But I wasn’t. I should fear fire. I should have a morbid dread of it. But I don’t. Instead, it creeps into almost everything I write.


Just burn…

Apropos of National Novel Writing Month, I thought I’d repost this favorite of mine.

Why do I write in the light
When the dark is so intoxicating?
Just to keep up appearances…
Do I continue to smile though I’m dying?
How do I find my voice
Amidst a cacophony of screaming?
I don’t want your self-help diatribe
I don’t want your power of positive thinking

I can’t hear myself think
Let alone pen a work of distinction
I need a strong, stiff drink
But that’s only self-medication
And what’s it all mean anyway?
When nothing’s going to give satisfaction
Just a book full of ink spots
That sits on a shelf gathering desolation

How do I come to grips
With my own profound unhappiness?
I’m nothing but thunderstorms and anger
Keep your sunshine and sweetness
I have no more words of encouragement
It’s cruelty, competition, unfairness
The theme for the day is belligerent
It’s outworking displays its aggressiveness

So save your kindly comments
And your gestures of reverent concern
For into the fires of failure
I let the manuscripts burn
Lick the curling hundreds of pages
Kindle the books, at each turn
Throw gas on the conflagration
And I’m gone, never more to return…