The fire had spread like a lunatic’s rave:
Instantly touching everything on its mind.
Two brick and timber factories had caved;

Their doors and windows, charcoal-lined,
Belched plumes of inky smoke and steam.
The gathering crowd watched those assigned,

The firemen with their silvery streams,
Their science-fiction trucks; they occupied
The chaos, soldiers amassed against bad dreams.

The crowd confirmed no one had died.
Good news. We could enjoy the view,
The pleasures calamities provide,

Damage being done, but not to you:
Just some lit-up street, a has-been block,
A dazzling blaze against a dusky blue.

I wondered if the firemen, those on the clock,
Considered us—the watchers—testament
To noble man, or nature’s awe and shock,

Or did they recognize our needful intent?
Perhaps we were invisible, our crowd,
This entire electorate drawn to the pavement,

All neighbors I’d never seen—the squalid
To the princely. The tracksuits were joining
The track-marked, yesteryear’s duds spread

Piecemeal in with the latest street-thing.
The Emo teen peered over the half-clad Sherpa,
Sidestepped the mustache with Darjeeling

On his tie, stopped at the Methuselah
In his three-piece suit of dust. Saris, sandals,
Head-wraps, and a color-wheel plethora

Of clothes crossed my eye-sweep and filled
Me with the prevalent loneliness of cities—
All strangers at my own block’s vigil,

No known faces, just the familiar frieze,
The still and riveted stance of those
Assembled here to watch. Most were seized

With a dark but guiltless happiness:
Families seemed familiar, the drunks sipped their booze,
Old couples whispered, new lovers said less,

And the whole of us together seemed to move
In a more radiant realm than the day to day.
I, too, had managed to briefly lose

The squabbles in my mind, the constant fray,
The daily skirmishes, all voiceless
For now. I had a fire’s warmth and disarray.

I had a city emptied of each house.
I had front row at a sold-out production.
It made sense that, unadmitted, most of us

Enjoy similarly creation and destruction;
And I understood the first applauded stone
Thrown to begin the public execution.

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PETER SWANSON’s poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, The Nervous Breakdown, Notre Dame Review, Slant Magazine, Soundings East, Rattapallax, and The Vocabula Review. He has won awards in poetry from The Lyric and Yankee Magazine, and is currently completing a sonnet sequence on all 53 of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. His debut novel, The Girl With a Clock for a Heart, is forthcoming from William Morrow. He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts.

One response to “The Fire Watchers”

  1. I read the first book and flipped over it. It was so amazing! I’ve been anticipating this one for a while now.
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