Forty years ago, with smoke wafting
down our hallway and billowing
under the door and the fire alarm
blaring away, I had to get out fast.
My young wife was at work,
no animals to locate and save,
years away from our child’s birth,
I grabbed what was, at the time,
my most valuable possession—something
I’d held dear since my first year at
the University of Wyoming where I sat
in Richard Howey’s philosophy class,
sharpened my life, progressed it out of
the cave of conformity and complacency.
I grabbed my copy of The Portable Nietzsche
and fled our smoke-choked abode.
Outside, on the sunbleached sidewalk,
while helmeted Denver firemen wrapped
in their heavy rubber coats and boots,
stormed our building, I opened to Zarathustra
and read my favorite aphorism—a beatitude
Freddy wrote to Christians whom, he averred,
always slept well because they got God
to forgive their sins every night before bed:
“Blessed are the sleepy ones,” he wrote,
for they shall soon drop off.”
As it turned out, ours was a silly,
if smokey, dumpster fire, put out easily
by Denver’s best. When my sweet wife
returned from her day’s labor (I was still
struggling to obtain my BA), I told her
of the afternoons’ excitement.
Had I wrapped arms around our wedding album?
she wanted to know. Had I carried it out of
our endangered building that day, rescued
our most cherished memories from the
inchoate flames? Her long dark hair,
moon-cool eyes, and hands whose fingers
moved over me like a Chopin etude,
instantly obliterated twenty years of Catholic
dogma about truth telling as well as my
adherence to Nietzsche’s transvaluation
of all values. Of course, I replied. I ran out
of our endangered home with our memories
held firmly in my hands, kept safe from
flames, hoses, water damage, and enemies:
foreign or domestic.
That night I slept well. Dropped right off.
Charlie Brice is the winner of the 2020 Field Guide Magazine Poetry Contest and is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), An Accident of Blood (2019), and The Broad Grin of Eternity (forthcoming), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Chiron Review, Plainsongs, I-70 Review, The Sunlight Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere.