Friday, I saw the dark brown smudge
rising to the sky over the river and knew.
I just knew its feel, look, sound, and haunting aroma.
I’d had more than a few of these blazing affairs
when they existed for my artistic interpretation.
The newsroom scanner would beep-boop-beep
as its voice summoned the fire companies
I would race with them, drawn I was
by that sign in the sky like
some scribbling magus set on Bethlehem.
I’d see the smoke belch a column so rank,
so thick from a portal eaten through the roof,
or twining together from broken windows,
you would think you could climb it
like Jack’s beanstalk.
Then I would interview the inferno,
making notes of what it wore, how it stood,
how the lights within and without
and the freezing water it drank framed it
as some angry crystal phantasm, scorching faces
in hellish ferocity all the while we suitors
shivered in the mist from what I’m sure was
January’s frightful chill.
And then, I’d go back to write her
biography and obit, later to stumble teary-eyed
to my tiny flat, shuck my stinking clothes
into the corner of the room, feel her
scratchy touch on my skin, smell her
fetid perfume on my body, knowing
she’d be with me for days. Then I’d sleep,
naked, with my interviewee until morning.
Friday afternoon, I saw a column of smoke climbing over downtown Albany, and that Proustian thing came upon me and my imagination recalled the memories of the smell of fires in houses, barns, and mobile homes I covered from my reporter days way up in New York’s North Country. It is not the romantic aroma of a simple woodfire. Those memories coalesced in this rambling bit of verse.