After the Fires

US-WILDFIRES-CALIFORNIA
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.

The mantle!
That gorgeous mantle your daughter carved.
A year of her life went into it.

Gone. Everything.
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.

You begin.
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.

Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

6 thoughts on “After the Fires

  1. 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!

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Heartbreaking. I read this poem over and over and felt my heart break ever time. Beautiful, shimmering and sad.

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