Years ago, I watched news coverage of a California wildfire on television and asked myself, "What would I take with me in a fire?" Of course, I had to up the ante, so I tossed in a little more tension. This was the resulting poem.
It's actually an amazing mental exercise: if all of your peeps and pets were safe, what belongings would you take with you? Set your own boundaries (car or carry, etc.) and answer the question yourself. Maybe the answer is your next poem.
The valley is on fire
and it comes as no surprise
to me. I grew fond of the dense
grainy sunset, and the ashes
on the porch were a welcome
sight. They helped me think.
But my eyelid still twitches
when I get the empty boxes from the trunk
of my Chevy, and when the cat scratches
her litter I freeze, sure
it is your tires crunching up the gravel
driveway. I’m not a coward, but I know
my strengths. You are not among
them. So I pack first the things
for which I would burn — Mother’s
jewelry, the cat’s medicine, my
The wind picks up. Now I smell
the fur of those to small to outrun
the quick snapping flames.
I lift the drawers
from the dresser, turning them
upside down and giving them a shake
or two — not because they
need it, but because I need
the finality of a shake. You have
taught me well.
And when the litterbox
is stacked on the Samsonite in the back seat
and my galoshes are wedged next
to the spare tire and my ten favorite
books are tucked in with the linen
and Nana’s typewriter presses against
the picnic basket below the cat and carrier
up front next to me, I’ll start
out of the valley, before the fire reaches
what was always your home anyway.
- by Chris Fow Cohen
© Chris Fow Cohen. All rights reserved.