Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Snapshots (of 34 years on the line)

When I began writing my 3rd book, I started with some exercises based on my memories. I remarked to myself that people remember, not in epochs, but in snapshots. So I jotted down numerous snapshots. Then in the year it took me to write the book "Fire and Ice" I'd forgotten about my list of snapshots and never inserted them in the book. There's not enough to justify another book, but too dear to me to throw away like table scraps. So, I thought I'd put them here. These are some snapshot taken during my 34 years in firefighting, ambulance runs and search and rescue operations in Alaska. I'll lay them out like poetry….

Thirty-four years on the line pounds images
into random flashes of scenes in no order nor logic.
Mostly, we remember, not in epochs but in snapshots.
Sometimes I flip through these snapshots after I turn off the light.

I've seen the ER doc absently brush chunks of vomit off her smock at three a.m.
as the bleary-eyed medics stood like numb statues,
the snow flakes melting on their jackets.

Huddled in the lee of boulders barely big enough
to offer protection against the moaning wind.

I've stood in front of the crowded Saturday night sidewalks
as our medics picked him foul and witless from the pavement.
Sympathetic Joanie; sober and meticulous Vicki; amused Kyle;
backdropped by the jovially bellowing crowd

Joanie always saw the best in everyone,
always had a kind and uplifting comment for the least of us.
And she meant them.
Regarding others, for her the glass was always half full and filling up fast.

Vicki, the captain, would be the last to seek peer approval.
She was straight forward and never bothered seeking homogenized words.
She laughed readily or spit out admonishments whenever needed.

A simple, early-evening house fire.
Gently blowing curtains of gray smoke
wisping through the sidewalk crowd –
silent people with handkerchiefs to their noses.

A rescue operation in the dead of winter
and the fog of exhaled breaths puffing in the moonlight
while everyone else in town slept

The father of a dead child can't absorb the finality of it,
clutches the child's shoe and can't let go

Young people committing suicide….
No – too sterile
Young people killing themselves.

Firefighters at night: Red flashing lights flickering against greasy faces;
streams of rain water running off helmet brims and
Glistening on the black coats under the stark lights of the fire engines.
Looking up at the streaks of rain cutting through the harsh street lights.

The middle-aged transient man who lived his life alone,
found dead in his bed, looking like an over-inflated rubber doll.
He was swollen and dark, completely naked
except for the white glove on his right hand.
We strangers had to move him.
His final humiliation.

The silent and beaten crew at the fire station, drinking beer,
glances at me because I'm supposed to say something,
but I'm too beaten to think.
Our most veteran member says, "God decides who lives and dies. You don't."
and puts an end to it.

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