Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Man on a Fire Escape by Edward Hirsch

Man on a Fire Escape


He couldn’t remember what propelled him

out of the bedroom window onto the fire escape

of his fifth-floor walkup on the river,


so that he could see, as if for the first time,

sunset settling down on the dazed cityscape

and tugboats pulling barges up the river.


There were barred windows glaring at him

from the other side of the street

while the sun deepened into a smoky flare


that scalded the clouds gold-vermillion.

It was just an ordinary autumn twilight—

the kind he had witnessed often before—


but then the day brightened almost unnaturally

into a rusting, burnished, purplish-red haze

and everything burst into flame;


the factories pouring smoke into the sky,

the trees and shrubs, the shadows,

of pedestrians scorched and rushing home. . . .


There were storefronts going blind and cars

burning on the parkway and steel girders

collapsing into the polluted waves.


Even the latticed fretwork of stairs

where he was standing, even the first stars

climbing out of their sunlit graves


were branded and lifted up, consumed by fire.

It was like watching the start of Armageddon,

like seeing his mother dipped in flame. . . .


And then he closed his eyes and it was over.

Just like that. When he opened them again

the world had reassembled beyond harm.


So where had he crossed to? Nowhere.

And what had he seen? Nothing. No foghorns

called out to each other, as if in a dream,


and no moon rose over the dark river

like a warning—icy, long forgotten—

while he turned back to an empty room.


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