Getting Burned

Me at a press in Racquette River Printshop, c. 1980. Photo: unknown, possibly James Zwadlo

It’s a natural response to gawk at disaster, smashed cars, burning houses, crime-scene tape going up by the flashing lights of police cars. As Thurgood Marshall said, “I love peace, but I  adore a riot.” And it’s true, right up until the disaster is your own.

Getting Burned

I remember watching things burn.
Dad would wake us up to go see.
The California Fruit Market fire 
cleared out the corner by the bridge,
then the Baptist Church burned ,
sparks flying up like prayers,
the roaring as the steeple fell.

Fires beautiful and fires terrible –
winter fires, a fairyland of icicles,
summer fires hot on the face like
midnight sun, red firelit steam
and smoke rising. But then what
burned was mine: the phone said,
“Get to town. The printshop’s on fire.”

Having seen fire from the other side,
what I recall are smells, burned plastic,
charcoal, mildewed paper and cloth,
water rank with leached mortar lime.
I smell it still, opening a book saved
from the debris. It will never fade.
How loath I am to go back inside.

Note: unpublished draft

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2 Responses to Getting Burned

  1. Byron Whitney says:

    Wonder if Betsy covered that fire for the Courier?

  2. Byron Whitney says:

    Betsy May well have photographed this fire for the Courier. She started as a proofreader in 1976, promoted to part time reporter in 1977, and named editor in 1982.

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