Who am I to voice your grief?
I who lost nothing in the fires but sleep,
eight days of work.
You were left without a home.
Four bedrooms, two baths, the kitchen
you remodeled with cherry cabinets
and black granite counters.
It was like being in a jewelry box, you said.
There was your grandfather’s writing desk,
with its curved legs and tiny hidden drawers.
The long dining room table,
born from trees in Finland.
I could never resist running my hand
over its smooth hollows.
Paintings, small sculptures, photos from your travels.
That leopard in the tree, a red sun behind him.
You won an award for that.
That gorgeous mantle your daughter carved.
A year of her life went into it.
Not just burned up—swallowed, mangled,
the fire an immense maw,
roaring down the mountain
faster than a man could run.
They had to paint street names on what was left
so that people could find where their homes had been.
First a roof, then the rest: food, plates, cups, clothes, soap.
Your needs are savage, you see that now.
You cannot live on art, books, a priceless mantle,
though a part of you still knows they matter.
What shall I buy you?
A coat? A set of dishes? A Safeway giftcard?
Or something else,
some beautiful useless thing
you will turn to again and again.
6 thoughts on “After the Fires”
So right on, Jean! As always, so well-written, too.
Thank you, Taya. I hope you know how much love you and Mary have around you.
Love this story Jean. This sounds like your jewel box home, but wonder if it represents a friend’s loss. Very poignant and compassionate essay, dear Jean. Love you!
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I appreciate your wisdom, Janet, and your unfailingly kind ways.
Heartbreaking. I read this poem over and over and felt my heart break ever time. Beautiful, shimmering and sad.
So appreciated, John.
“You can’t take it with you,” as the saying goes, but the things we hold dear are a comfort to the end.