The sleeper woke and spotted the fire,

called the station to bring the water

pumped through hoses; victims coughed in smoke

and watched trucks drive up hills so steep,

bearing equipment coated in ice and snow.

Those on upper floors considered a jump.

 

Once as a child, I made ski jumps

for races after school on fields of glowing fire,

a setting sun red against the snow

crystallized in freezing water,

and I ran uphill with breath steeped

in steam that resembled smoke.

 

The Jay Fire Auxiliary struggled through smoke,

carried coffee in mittened hands and jump

suits, clambered tirelessly up steep

grades to warm volunteers from the fire

station next door to the watering

trough, buried in a yard of snow.

 

Even now, I still smell the sweet snow

despite the air-choking thickness of smoke

tightening my chest without water.

I recall memories of a saving jump,

from a fierce blaze of fire,

drawing wholeness of life steeper

 

and deeper into a house with roof so steep,

to let loose to the ground the falling snow,

melted by heat from the fire,

driving me to find safety away from smoke,

giving me courage to jump

and wisdom to call the station for water.

 

Outside, the bearers of water

at 1 a.m. climbed slopes steep

enough to slip, slide or jump

over patches of packed snow;

inside I choked in smoke

and lived in dread of the fire.

 

I am thankful for the mix of fire and water,

and blend of snow and smoke

steeping my anticipated fear of a jump.

 

George Chappell is a Rockland resident and member of The Courier-Gazette news staff. His book, "A Fresh Footpath: My New Life in Poetry" is available through Pell Press in Rockport.