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.


Selective Memory

Time softens all the jagged edges
The lens is hazy, out of focus
Lay the gauze across my recollections
When I remember what became of us…

Promises whispered, drunk on wine
I’d believe your whitewashed lies
And dull deceptions polish to a shine
Trace my lips with your fingers, smile

Make me slave to your obsessions
A naive girl at your mercy 
Just another trinket for your collection
Love, a lie, sweetness and agony 

Then depart without a warning
Despise myself, knowing I’d forgive you
Empty hours of constant yearning
To start again like something new

When you’d return with total assurance
That I was helpless to resist you
Confident of my acquiescence
You’d break my heart anew

And yet those days, those heady days
Of books and wine and conversation
The nights in your tender arms I’d lay
Then wake in solitude once again… 

So I choose the pieces that I want
Tiny fragments, bring me joy
And cast aside those that haunt
When I was your plaything, wicked boy

Image courtesy Indian Express

Tales of War

Gathering dust and clinging webs
The attic cache lies in wait
Trunks and boxes long untouched
The time has come to investigate

Sepia photos, cracked and faded
Sticking pages, broken binding
Letters home, bound with twine
The tales of war, I am finding

Peruse the pictures, study the faces
So full of youthful determination
His postures straight, those twinkling eyes
Would soon be witness to an extermination

Ravaged, disfigured, lungs burned by gas
Returned to England, the war barely survived
Haunted by nightmares, wracked by cough
This broken man came home to die

War upon his sweetheart, laid the burden
Tore away the chance for a happy life
For the babe that quickened in 1914
Was all that he left his beloved wife

(Header image: The Ypres Salient at Night – Paul Nash, artist)