Thanks to Karen for letting me share her poetic processing of Saturday's car fire disaster.
For All Thy Mercies
Tonight I am running, running. Lungs freeze, sides are tight. My flashlight bobs an uneven rhythm.
Today people painted, spackled, sanded, cleaned in the ordinary way. My father bought the top coat. Antique Frost or Queen Anne's Lace? I walked fast efficient circles, talking, talking, trying to remember what it was I had to do.
Early morning reading
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles
Karen, it’s 16 degrees here and 19 in
. The diesel in the van hasn’t been winterized; let it run five or ten minutes before you drive it Charlotte
Okay Dad. See you soon
Kids are still sleeping; should I wake them? No, Ed will pick them up later
Perfect, clear, crisp, cold
Turn the key, wait till the squirrly wire light goes off before starting it, like Dad says
Two tries and a lot of cranking. Neutral, release the clutch
Stalls out. Huh. Musta been in first. Try again, oh good. 8:12
Get the carseats out so Ed can get the kids
Pizzas from the garage fridge. Target 3 for $10
Cold. Shed my purple coat, get Jacob’s big parka
8:18. Gotta go. Dad and the others will be at the house soon
Put the pizzas in the side door. That’s weird. Smells like I drove with the emergency brake on
Take out the key. Heater stops, radio “Goodbye”
Strange sound, what is it?
The engine is running
Dad cell. Try stalling it
Okay. Stall it out. Indicator lights are still on; temp, oil, squirrly wire and check engine light
It starts fine, but you have to stall it to stop. And the dash lights won't go off
His mechanic's mind is grasping, calculating, problem-solving
No idea what’s wrong with it. You can’t drive it
Can I drive your van Beth? They are going to be at the house soon
Purse and the pizzas out, back to the kitchen for the keys
Cirrus smoke wisps from the rear vents
Dad cell. Disconnect the battery
Coty, can you help me? Voice punctures upstairs, tight and demanding. We need a ten millimeter wrench
The battery compartment is behind the passenger seat
I know Dad. Jumped this thing enough times
Gasp, grunt, pant. Seat won't budge. Handle pops off
Hop in, hamstrings do the job
Wrench taps the battery, the van cranks, jumps forward
Why is that sparking? His voice thinks it is an academic question
Side door screeches
The battery is disconnected. His voice considers the question put to rest
The scuzzy haze is disruptive, dissonant, disturbing
We’ve got to move the other cars out of the driveway. Quietly, light brows drawn together like he’s making a sermon point
Okay Coty. I’ll move your van
The vent smoke is pushy, urgent, rubbery. It bulges out in grungy fat roils like caulk. Not the caulk at the house, finger jobs all over. Perfect filthy caulk curls, wasting in a steep slant up the white winter sky
And tell Beth to call the fire department. Mild, calm, controlled
Call the fire department. I am shouting
That hiss and snap is from the engine
My van key doesn’t fit their ignition
My purse, my pocket, no keys. The kitchen again
Can’t find the keys. I am shouting
Dad cell. There's burning liquid dripping from the engine, Dad
Get a fire extinguisher, spray up under the rear of the van
Another set. Back Beth’s van into the street
Dull, dusty, insignificant. Pull the pin. Smoke seeps furiously around the rear door; bend down and aim but can’t get too close. An irrelevant poof. Part of the bumper momentarily free of flames
Sparse winter leaves twist and curl, shrinking uncomfortably in the sudden scorching updraft
Dad cell. Get a hose
Okay Dad. Beth, where’s a hose? Out by the corner of the house
The van is toast, Dad
There are flames pouring from the back of the van
Flames, oh. His voice rises in pitch, not volume. Eyes squint, head bends, brows up and then down
A hose, where’s a hose?
The fire department is almost here. You can hear the sirens now. His eyes are kind, quizzical
Okay, Coty. He's coatless on the grass
All men are like grass
A police car. Everyone is out of the house, right?
Not yet. Charge up the stairs. Everyone has to get out of the house. I am shouting
Grab blankets, coats, Ezra
Mommy, why are the fire trucks here?
Slosh down the leafy hill
You can wear Papa’s shirt to sleep while he’s gone, okay? The stretched-out neck of Jacob’s worn white undershirt slants over Ezra’s shoulder
He flaps the extra length of my sweatshirt on his arms and looks down at his toes
Isabelle wears Papa’s shirts too. My purple coat is like a dress. Her face is pale, puffy, sleepy
Beth opens Levi's blanket. Naked and poopy. We were in the middle of a diaper change when we had to get out
He cries up at me, his head pale orange on the wood of the neighbor's deck. Ducky's black button eyes stare up from beside him, unsquinting in the dry winter light
An explosion. Just a small one. A tire
Okay, the fire is out. You can come up to the house now. Casual, matter-of-fact
Pick them up, slosh up the hill
Kneel at the window. For your mercies, God
Dad cell. The fire is out now
Where moth and rust destroy
Through the stop sign, left on
. You'll see the trucks Wellington
Oh, you're here now
They wander regretfully past the fire engines to the charred sodden carnage
Purse in the driveway, pizza bag’s full of leaves
, right, the driveway. My heart-rate slows. Wellington
The gravel of glass and charcoal winks in the weak eye of my flashlight.
Screech of the side door.
Bubbled, peeled, flayed, singed, scorched, scarred, gutted.
A yellow Lego. Aunt Lil’s musical Thomas book. Aunt Debbie’s color shape board. Magnetic ballerinas, Jacob’s Goodwill find. The emergency diaper pack.
Dad’s temp gauge gadget hangs ashy on the dash.
Fifteen years faithful, how many thousand hours of care, research, consideration, deliberation, preparation?
My brothers and I hold each other and weep out our childhood, teenagers new to the strangeness of
We switchback up the Sierra Nevadas, a dozen cars sit steaming at the roadside.
My father. You know I put a Passat turbo diesel in it. Mm-hmm. Oh, about thirty-five miles to the gallon.
Hmmm, I thought I’d work on the van a bit tonight. Got a few things I'd like to look at.
We talk, laugh, listen, sing, pray, discuss, argue, share, sleep, plan.
An expression of my father's genius, a mechanic's art, blasted.
The kitchen is brilliant. Beth swings around, smiling.
The Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire.
Hi Mommy, this is a wand. You can measure things with it.
I was given a reed like a measuring rod.
Brown rice, okra, tomatoes, tilapia, applesauce.Bedtime guys, bring me your teeth.
Mommy, can I play a game for a minute?How 'bout this, Ez, the house is on fire, you drive the fire truck.
Why did Opa's van burn up, Mommy? I think Opa could fix it easily.
Sometimes there are things that even Opa can't fix, Isabelle.
I have an idea. We could get some new glass and then put it in.
Honey, sometimes things are so ruined, so wrecked that you can't fix them.
Time for bed sweetheart, you slept in late this morning.
When all thy mercies, O my God, my rising soul surveys, transported with the view, I'm lost in wonder, love, and praise.