Wednesday, December 21, 2016

primary sources add much

stories of the Fire

we historians love primary sources,
for it’s like the scientist with the truth just before us
of what actually happens,
not the truth we imagine should be so,
that we’ve heard to be so,

the great disaster, the Chimney Tops 2 Fire,
swept down upon Gatlinburg like an avenging angel,

when I visit with those who were here in those moments,
I feel the awful rawness and beauty
of the best within humanity,
called-out by the damned capriciousness
the world can throw at us,

a man describes the fire and his responses,
a cataloguing of what it did, what tools he could use,
what he did to hold against dissolution,

a woman describes hearing of the fire
and saving what could be saved,
until a tree fell on the ark of her car,
the fire forcing another retreat
and destroying the car,
losing so much but not the love she lives
for family and friends,
losing possessions a sorrow
but a lesser end
than losing her life,
or that of her loved ones,

I hear a man tell of losing his home,
his rental properties,
of fireballs rising into the sky,
of rescuing melted mementoes from a car,
and then reminiscing of the past up this valley
that he still remembers and honors with fondness,
he looks at the woods and declares
that come spring the growth will make it easy
to think there was no devastating fire,
right after he declares a sadness in the loss,
he smiles, comments ruefully,
and moves on without bitterness,

each story slips over this half-charred, half-saved world
to add depth and perspective, to add complexity,
to how the story of the fire intersected
with the lives of the people,
caught up in the fiery plot of this maelstrom.

by Henry H. Walker

December 17, ’16

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