It Was Nothing Poem, Our House Fire

Here are a few photos of the house fire we went through in 2003, along with a poem I wrote that captures some of it ten years later.
I include some photos of the rebuilt house and us in it.
"It will get better." some told us after the event.And it has.
It Was Nothing

“It was nothing”
Said my six-year old
In a Thank You card
To his first-grade class
I discover a decade later

Among family heirlooms.
Except that it was something.
It was a hous

That but for seconds
Almost took his life,
And my life
And the life of his older brotherAnd burned my wife

Severely enough
That she was medivaced
To a burn unit at Johns Hopkins.
“Thanks for all those cards!
Everything is okay!
I bought all new clothes
And my mom is okay.

All of my drawings are okay
And none have been thrown away.”
He continues in bravado that wins wars.

He does not know
That day after day
I sifted through the flotsam
And the muck of oil, ash, plastic,

Wire and paste to separate out

She had signed herself out
Of the burn unit early
To be able to see her older son
Graduate high school and I had to learn
To be the attending nurse in minutes.
What was worth preserving
And what had to go to the dump.

Because it was ruined beyond saving:
Photos of family events, clothes,
Furniture, electronics, poems,
And even his pictures
He drew with such beauty
That now stunk
And were smeared with ash.

He does not know
That I wailed like a baby
When first driving from the hospital
After seeing his mother hours after the fire

When the full effect of her burns
Displayed on her face and arms
And I did not fully recognize
My own wife
And after having just spent the day
Dealing with media wolves,
Insurance men, constructors,
Notifying family and friends,
And dragging my guns, ammo, computers
And family photos from the house
After a volunteer firefighter
Allowed me to break
The back French door

To get what few possessions were left
From the rage of the fireball
That ripped through the house that day.

He does not know the odor
Of his mother’s flesh wounds
When I removed her old dressings
With the puss and blood and weeping,
And wrapped the new dressing
Because, core of iron and flower,
He does not know
That even today I kiss and caress

His mother’s scar tissue tenderly

At times and remember
The fact that I almost lost her
In the fireball that turned 
Like a yellow, blue, purple, white
Demon from acrid hell
That couldn’t be real, but was,
And was really THERE...
Insidious, hateful, violent, hot, vicious,
Trying the steal the life
Of my wife and children in minutes
As I had to think and race
To free them from its death-dealing power.

“Thanks for everything”
He concludes his note.
“Thanks for everything”
I repeat, and fall to my knees
And plead with God,
The Trinity, the Angels, the Saints,
And anyone else, human or divine,
Who saved our futures that day.
“Thanks for everything,
Even if I never said it that day.”

December 30, 2011

In some ways, I've known about the power of fire all my life.
My dad's cousin, a Philadelphia firefighter, was killed in a South Philadelphia refinery fire in the 1960's. I remember my mother and father going to his viewing. So I knew from an early age fire was something real, brutal, and deadly.
As a child, we would form groups, now called gangs, in West Oak Lane. We had many initiation rights. One was to dance around with torches on fire. That was, at least until my mother saw us. A women of intelligence and patience, she waited until we were out of the Little Lot before she extinguished our torches...and fanned our asses.
Then, she dragged us home almost pulling our arms from our sockets as we resisted because we knew what awaited us: The Egg flopper. It normally only turned over pancakes and friend eggs. This night it was used to discipline us until our hinies were sore and red.
That cured  my firebug ways.
She split open my fingernails during that licking, and I vowed never to talk to her again. That lasted a week until, one day when I was out tending the tomato plants in our 10 foot by 10 foot city back yard, she grabbed me, shook me, and said, 
"Talk to me! I'm home alone with you all day and you don't speak to me. Talk to me!
So I said, "Aren't these tomato plants growing fast?"
To which she answered, "Yes. Now imagine how it is for me to see you guys grow up so fast!"
And then we were off gabbing and cutting up like always.
She was the first person I called after my heart stopped racing after our house fire. She was always dependable. I knew she would call everyone in my large family and I could concentrate on getting things done that needed to be done to restore our "normal" life.
And, when 16-years old and raising an aluminum ladder while painting a house, an arc of electricity jumped from Philadelphia Electric utility line to the ladder. 
Tens of thousands of volts went from the line, through the ladder, and out the ground...which was on fire with electrical current.
I was pulling a rope to raise the ladder and was knocked back. Jimmy Ozga, a freshman college football player, died instantly as the current went through his heart. 
The owner of the house painting company had his feet burned off.
So I've seen what fire and hot current can do.
I've learned to respect its power.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this poem. My daughter is in the burn unit right now, she survived a house fire 7 weeks ago. The part about you kissing your wife's scars brought tears to my eyes.

Bruce Curley said...

It is always so much harder when it is a child, especially one as young as 7. I will pray for her. When I saw my wife in the burn unit the first night, I did not recogniize her. She healed in a miraculous way and only has small scars remaining. I will pray that your daugher recovers fully.