"Since flesh can't stay, we keep the breath aloft. Since flesh can't stay, we pass the words along." --Erica Jong

Monday, October 02, 2006


The night the Arcade burned the air turned red
as blood, a midnight mummy-shroud of smoke
wound up the sky, an ash and cherry cloak
that so lit up the glass, the house, the shed
containing all the Gypsy's magic strings
that moved her wooden hands, her ruby rings.
Oh, fire! Fire! forever in my head!
She should have known, that lady in the box,
and played a lucky card to break the locks.
She should have felt the lick of doom, have known
the itch of ghostly flame that was her own
undoing. I watched for a penny card,
some remnant of the cindered holocaust
that showed the Gypsy's fingerprint, unmarred
and pointing where the Exit sign was lost.

One night, after dinner was over and the dishes had been washed and dried, while the grown-ups were in the kitchen playing Poker at the table, I went to the front room and entertained myself with the piano bench. I turned it over and climbed into the little box the upside down seat made. I had a tea-strainer and a few red, white, and blue poker chips they gave me to play with. When I shook the round white chips in the tea-strainer they made a sound like eggs boiling in a pan. So, the piano bench turned upside down became my "boat" and I began "cooking eggs" for my picnic. I had hardly begun when I happened to glance up at the window in the front door. It was RED. I climbed out of my boat and went to look out the door. To my horror, the PENNY ARCADE across the street, where my friend Nancy and I often spent our afternoons buying trading cards with pictures of bubble dancers and movie stars, where we sometimes had our fortunes told by the gypsy lady in a glass box, where my brother once won a metal army tank by guiding a mechanical claw toward his prize, was ON FIRE! I ran to tell the adults, "It's burning! The Arcade is burning!" And nobody listened. No one paid attention to my excited rantings. So the Arcade went up in flames, and in the process, sent sparks over to the house next door to it, which was Nancy's house, and burned it up as well. For days afterward, she and I sifted through the charred remains looking for her dolls, Donnie and Tony.
Sadly, we never found them. (Years later, she would name her first son Tony). Nancy and her father and mother would live with us at our house until they moved away to Blue Diamond, Nevada, where her dad had a job in another mine. We were seven.

My dad was a volunteer Fireman after that. When the fire siren would go off in the middle of the night, he'd leap into his pants and shoes, and we'd chase the fire engine. I remember one night mother had forgotten to fill up the gas tank and we ran out of gas, and the fire engine sped off, leaving us behind in a cloud of dust. Daddy almost never swore. This was the first time I heard him swear.

1 comment:

jillypoet said...

What a great, though sad, memory! So well written, so well preserved. The imagery of the arcade and the fortune teller is wonderful. I am trying to remember where I have seen one very much like that... I am really enjoying your history, but this is by far my favorite. Amazing what one instant can do to change the course of lives. If only the grownups had listened to you...

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1. In dreams I am often young and thin with long blond hair. 2. In real life I am no longer young, or thin, or blonde. 3. My back hurts. 4. I hate to sleep alone. (Fortunately I don't have to!) 5. My great grandfather had 2 wives at once. 6. I wish I had more self-discipline. (I was once fired from a teaching position in a private school because they said I was "too unstructured and undisciplined." --Who, me??? Naaaahhh....) 7. I do not blame my parents for this. Once, at a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told me my little boy was "spacey." We ALL are, I told her. The whole fan damily is spacey. She thought I was kidding. I wasn't. 8. I used to travel with a theater reperatory company. My parents weren't happy about this. 9. My mother was afraid that I would run off and paint flowers on my cheeks and live in a commune, and grow vegetables. I once smoked pot. ONE TIME. 10. I don't drink or smoke. (Or swear, much. Well, I drink milk, and water, and orange juice, and stuff. Cocoa. I love Pepsi.) 11. Most of my friends are invisible. 12. I am a poet and a writer. All of my writing on these pages is copyrighted. Borrowing (without acknowledgment) is a sin.