“The Fire” by Campbell McGrath

Campbell McGrath


A young man wakes in a burning house. Tears throttle his eyes, he cannot draw breath, everything is smoke, darkness, and fire. He tumbles from bed and crawls the long hallway toward the door; the door is locked, he has no key. 
Where is the window, he thinks, but the heat is too intense 
and already he is lost. 
Whispering his mother’s name, he huddles behind that door where the firefighters find him, his powerful heart—which nine days later will pump new blood through a stranger’s body—still beating. 
Why should I startle so at death’s brisk fretting of ringed fingers upon the sill? 
This house is not inviolate, it never was. 
City of the worm, city inside the atom, life requires death’s connivance, does it not? 
Stars are not the glory of heaven revealed through pinpricks in the fabric of night, stars and darkness are sewn from one material. All stones may be gravestones. Zero is a numeral, not the absence of numbers but the start of their dizzying ascent, from conception we are water turning a mill wheel, creating what shall be forfeit, grist into meal, life into death into life, and so forth. 
Surrender to the process, wisdom bids us, bind your soul to eternity by embracing the inevitability of loss. 
Well then, go ahead and grieve, but don’t ask me 
to stop knocking at the door—wake up, the house is on fire, the house is burning, it always was. 
Wake up, my darling boy, wake up.

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022


Campbell McGrath: “I live beneath a seashell on Miami Beach. I am currently at work inscribing ‘Song of Myself’ into a grain of sand.” (web)

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