And of course it crossed my mind that I was naked.
As I threw our bodies toward the back door, praying it not be blocked by flame, I thought of the people outside:
cops, firefighters, their hands around heavy metal hoses, my landlord I resented but his sweet wife whose insomnia had saved our lives.
James, Beth, Regina, Cole: housemates and friends who’d turn in shame as I plunged from the wreck nude, as the fire
set by God or one of us or by God
raged a deep, insistent orange against a still-dark morning sky.
The wound left on a life by a fire is closer to red but fire itself is orange said that sky
that morning and in every configuration of it a body, naked,
holding another smaller body in its arms runs from that home, from God
ushered like weather by a long arm with a watercolor mind. And outside,
at the top of the drive, I saw the appendage of water reach out and touch that wall of flame.
I watched them touch and talk for too long before any life
was deemed worth taking. That was the hardest part: watching that thing decide. People covered our flesh fast, metallic sleeves of rescue blankets: a sign our lives
were worth keeping secret, things the smoke could not nudge into sky . . .
The sheets of mylar reflected dancing flames
over huddled bodies as though we’d never escape, and we waited, treaded water on bare
feet beneath those giant mirrors, motioning up at the building from the outside.
Regina snapped; her voice heaving itself out of her mouth. I still hear her birthing Beth’s name, James’. How they fought their way up through her throat past tears to take
shape for me even now on this cold November morning a year later. Sometimes on really dark nights I think about Beth’s relationship to God. With that which takes and takes.
The nothing of it. How she loved the Ouija board, how steadfast and frivolous she was in life
with tempting and tampering spirit and fate, and her love of fossils, evidence of life outside
its time. And only as the sky
turned a plastic pink with the first light of day, two other naked
bodies were carried from open windows, down ladders and onto stretchers that flew past us, as we, the ones alright, for the first time all night, turned away from the flame.
Maybe one day I’ll forget about the fire.
At least for a while I will. And then, visiting family in New Haven, I’ll take
my son to the Peabody, where we’ll walk through the dinosaur exhibits, before the Neanderthals, where beasts with antlers and half-naked
mannequins stare out at us over uniform— slack friends dressed up like life,
until we get to the room of the rocks, and fossils. Portraits of sky
the backdrop to small fits of plant and animal signatures, hardened by the outside
world. By conditions favorable and not, while outside
still, the Yalies will shuffle from hall to hall. Maybe it’s snowing on this day, oh I hope it’s snowing, the only fire
around one boxed in a hearth, surrounded at its base by family and lovers, fed by chimney to the sky.
And maybe the two of us, him probably too old by then to feel ecstatic about the museum, but old enough to understand something of what it takes
for things to last, will nod down at the showcase of the early hominids, what’s left of the jaw of Lucy, and say, “oh, cool,” noting without having to think it how a life
doesn’t choose that for themselves, whether or not they last, naked
in their small airtight flats. And then, as we walk out the museum, I’m counting on that sky to break open, the snowflakes falling like ash around us, to remind me of how the outside
remains a place some sick and unhealed part of me misses running to, naked, as something like fire
or hell or just weather behind me takes what it can from, and does what it must to, not my life.
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