Fire Chief Collins hoped to stop
the fire at the Yesler-Leary
building on Front Street, tall atop
what is now Pioneer Square. Weary
with fear and exhaustion, townsmen
gathered close to watch a column
of hot air carry showers of sparks
and burning boards, like fireworks.
The holocaust was slow winning
new territory, but debris
rained down upon roofs as a tree
drops its cones—a new beginning
for more fires, and an explosion
in the sky like a second sun.
Fire Chief Collins hoped to stop
Cinders and smoke churned through mist
as the brothers dragged heavy, yet eager
steps through the shallows. Abner kissed
the first log he saw on the beach. “I’ll wager
the missus won’t mind too much,” said
the mill man, brushing a strand of seaweed
from the maiden’s face. “Dot’s the forgiving
kind,” agreed Albert. “But after living
through fire, I’m not about to risk the wrath
of Mabel.” Abner, solemn, nodded, “Don’t press
your luck. You’re already in a fine mess
over that pump organ.” “Don’t think our path
leads south. We’ll rebuild, with God’s will.”
Then they climbed home, up Denny Hill.
By this time, flames blocked every exit
from the mill, so Albert and Abner followed
the machinery into the drink. Abner checked it
by swimming deeper. Albert swallowed
brine and dogpaddled on the surface,
the wharf burning above him like a furnace.
Abner popped up again, and motioned toward
the open water. Albert grabbed a charred board,
and lurched after his brother. Mostly they floated.
Using lumber from the mill, they drifted
north with the current on a makeshift raft. Led
by the tide across an obsidian surface flooded
with stars, they watched the fires burn all night,
until they landed in Belltown, at first light.
Keene quickly jumped back onto the pier,
then hurried to the Stetson and Post Mill,
where his brother Abner was a partner. Near
the mill, Albert saw him carrying saws, a drill,
and other tools to safety as the conflagration
began to engulf the quay. At least a ton
of the most expensive machinery remained,
soon to be melted. “Nothing to be gained
by staying with it,” said Abner. “I’ll bargain
we’ll save it yet,” said Albert, right defiant.
Picking up a hot saw, he began cutting a giant
circle in the floorboards—for the pump organ
was on his mind. The gear kept getting hotter,
until Albert just dropped it all in the water.
Albert G. Keene, carpenter, had planned
to move his young family south that very day,
to sunny California, a more prosperous land,
and a lot warmer. He transferred a vast array
of their household belongings from the dock
to the Alameda, within a circle traced in chalk
by the captain, as the boundary of their estate.
The family pump organ was the only freight
left on the wharf. The cautious captain feared
the approaching fire and tarred timber
of the dock like the long fuse of a bomb for
his ship. A window of mere moments appeared,
so Keene began pulling the organ up the plank—
the captain had signaled. The organ fell. Sank.
Most possessions stacked on the docks
were lost to the flames. A few were able
to be loaded onto ships, whose decks
were heaped high with luxuries like rubble.
As if on cue, the ships weighed anchor
and backed into Elliot Bay, passenger
and crew alike crowding the gunnels
to watch buildings turned into funnels
of smoke. Special mention, nay, rhymes
are required for Captain Edward Quinn
of the schooner Teaser, who rescued ten
crates of books owned by The Seattle Times.
As for those belonging to The Post Intelligencer,
Go ask the flames if you want an answer.
With the wind blowing from the north,
the fire wasn’t expected to advance
in that direction. But wood is worth
as much as wind to the spark, and grants
it more air later—plenty of each below
street level. The fire crept at a slow
and steady pace through basements
along the waterfront, through vents
and even doorways, entirely unobserved.
Under the wharfing, it spread beneath
the street and blacksmith shop, then carved
its way to Kenyon Block to wreathe
the entire waterfront district. Every quay
and warehouse crumpled into the bay.
On the west side of Front Street, flames
were temporarily retarded by the walls
of the Safe Deposit Building. On James
Street the fire shrinks and then even stalls,
but the pause is short. A pitiless wind
rose. Dancing orange demons grinned
in expectation before licking the glass
windows and fittings made of brass.
They soon leapt over to Gordon Hardware,
where the roar of their maws was punctuated
by tons of cartridges exploding, unabated.
Civilians dove for cover, said a prayer
and more, then waited in awe and wonder
as all the ammunition boomed like thunder.
While discounting several rumors of death,
The Post Intelligencer was obliged to report
several casualties related in good faith:
An unknown man, trying to stop the fire short
of the trestle of the Oregon Improvement
Company, was struck by falling timber and sent
swiftly into the fire. Fireman Derby rushed
into the San Francisco Store and was crushed
by falling walls. Two blokes, looking tough,
were seen dashing into the Wa Chong
Co. for plunder amidst the pillage … wrong
place, wrong time. Already in flames, the roof
fell the moment they entered. He sendeth rain
on the just and the unjust—but there is no rain.
A Southern Health dental hygienist ceased work a day after being told dozens of images of her posing explicitly in the Cranbourne clinic were posted on a members-only internet porn site.
Which is as if ripped from the pages of Bird’s Nest in Your Hair, the latest publication from Korrektiv Press:
It took them a couple of trips up the elevator, but other than a dropped item here and there, everything went off without a hitch. While Tom and the others set up cameras and the rest of the equipment in the examination rooms, the performers sat on couches in the lobby, smoking cigarettes and thumbing through copies of Highlights and Ladies Home Journal. One fellow wearing a white lab coat was fiddling around with a tank of nitrous oxide, pressing a mask to his face with one hand while turning a dial with the other.
A couple of guys in tool belts were in the final stages of clearing out one of the overhead lights, deemed an obstruction for one of the more complicated shots. Near the front of the examination room were two women, chatting with a man holding what appeared to be a giant diaphragm. The women were unusually well built. This was obvious enough in their tidy little mauve smocks and white leggings—grossly exaggerated idealizations of dental assistants, judged Tom.
Perhaps they were inspired by the novel. Kind of hope they were, kinda hope they weren’t!
Read the rest of Bird’s Nest in Your Hair, available at amazon.com.