Saturday, February 6, 2016
Fire engines, police cars, ambulances --
they go by day and night near where we live
up the lane from the corner triangle
of fire hall, police station, hospital.
We hear every siren disrupt the air
like it is inside our front room. It all
excites my small son. The bright red as well,
the silver, the black, the white -- together,
sounds and colours are for him the single
language of what brings wonder. Now something
is going on right on our block. My son
runs to the high window, steps with startling
precision onto the baseboard heater
cover, tries to climb the ledge, the rigging
of the blinds. Wild attention in his eyes,
he points, utters his urgent not-yet words.
He wants only to hear the vehicles,
the outsized versions of three of his toys,
see them speed to a stop across the street,
then see the firefighters jump to the curb
in their boots, helmets, goggles, hooks and ropes.
I am no brave, strong, wise Odysseus,
I am a man in an old apartment
paying bills, rent, electricity, food,
to keep my son, his sisters, his mother
and me merely afloat. What I hear
in the street is no alluring high song;
it is the repeating instant of fear
blaring the emergency through my hours --
our building a roar of flames, no escape,
dire sickness, earthquake, us without supplies.
I am no ancient sailor manoeuvring
past the cliffs and rocks of an island shore,
yet everyone and everything I love
can appear far away and lost to me,
and an instant can tempt me to ruin.
And I hold my son so he will not fall.
And I hold to him. I kiss him, breathe in
the miracle smell of his hair, his skin,
keep the side of my head pressed against his
so neither of us will feel the alarm,
only the peace flowing within his skull.
And I am tied to him, and he to me,
our arms encircling while the vehicles
arrive in numbers and the sirens’ sounds
swirl close, louder, louder now, terrible --
he and I act as a ship’s mast that holds
a sail that fills with wind and steadies us
on the sea waves winding around the world.