Forty years ago, with smoke wafting

down our hallway and billowing

under the door and the fire alarm

blaring away, I had to get out fast.

 

My young wife was at work,

no animals to locate and save,

years away from our child’s birth,

I grabbed what was, at the time,

my most valuable possession—something

 

I’d held dear since my first year at

the University of Wyoming where I sat

in Richard Howey’s philosophy class,

sharpened my life, progressed it out of

the cave of conformity and complacency.

I grabbed my copy of The Portable Nietzsche

and fled our smoke-choked abode.

 

Outside, on the sunbleached sidewalk,

while helmeted Denver firemen wrapped

in their heavy rubber coats and boots,

stormed our building, I opened to Zarathustra

and read my favorite aphorism—a beatitude

Freddy wrote to Christians whom, he averred,

 

always slept well because they got God

to forgive their sins every night before bed:

“Blessed are the sleepy ones,” he wrote,

for they shall soon drop off.”

 

As it turned out, ours was a silly,

if smokey, dumpster fire, put out easily

by Denver’s best. When my sweet wife

returned from her day’s labor (I was still

struggling to obtain my BA), I told her

of the afternoons’ excitement.

 

Had I wrapped arms around our wedding album?

she wanted to know. Had I carried it out of

our endangered building that day, rescued

our most cherished memories from the

inchoate flames? Her long dark hair,

moon-cool eyes, and hands whose fingers

moved over me like a Chopin etude,

 

instantly obliterated twenty years of Catholic

dogma about truth telling as well as my

adherence to Nietzsche’s transvaluation

of all values. Of course, I replied. I ran out

of our endangered home with our memories

held firmly in my hands, kept safe from

flames, hoses, water damage, and enemies:

foreign or domestic.

 

That night I slept well. Dropped right off.

 

Charlie Brice

Charlie Brice is the winner of the 2020 Field Guide Magazine Poetry Contest and is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), An Accident of Blood (2019), and The Broad Grin of Eternity (forthcoming), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Chiron Review, Plainsongs, I-70 Review, The Sunlight Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere.

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