Today's poem is by Rita Dove

House Fire

                        The worst is not,
So long as we can say, “This is the worst.”
                   –King Lear, act 4, sc.1

The unspeakable moved through me like a pageant.

I watched it run its course;
I was in control and still
I marveled, a child clamoring
for the rainbow flowers
until up close she sees the shredded tissues,
all those reds and pinks
bleeding in the heat.

                                (Stop, rewind:

It was not hot
here, in September, late evening,
first lightning of the season.
And I didn’t so much watch
as follow directions: This is where
the roof caves in, laddering to ash;
this is where your desk flies
from the second story window
in flames . . .)

                       I never knew
a house could be so lovely
exploding. A closet, a bedroom,
such tidy novas; but the entire
upstairs hallway spared
because fire craves air and will
leap leagues to find it.
I stood there as long as I could,
I accepted everything —
the firemen’s shouts,
the worn bathrobe,
my neighbor’s glistening cheek
and despair holding me up like a torch,
even the weird refreshment
of the breeze the rain swept in on,
finally: first drops
of the promised storm.

Copyright © 2005 Rita Dove All rights reserved
from Runes
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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