Moran Composes His Will

I flipped a switch and ghosts were banished
By cold electric light. The bed
And room were bare. Melissa vanished
And silence hummed with words unsaid.
Rosario and I said farewell
(I left her by the servant’s stairwell)
And Argus-eyed, her windows blazed
With conquered fire – I’m still amazed
That tame destruction had established
A city: Sown as dragon’s teeth
A million volts had sprung a myth
And shone, a jewel that’s never polished –
Secure the flame and time forgets
The gross reward that nets regrets.

The Prophet Speaks

And genuflecting to the shoreline,
Unsheathing meaning in Lushootseed,
He chiefly paints on water: more than
An ancient oak, his lush shoots seed
The acorn’s fire; his tongue is bladed,
An oar that cuts the sound, though faded:
I give these words to future chiefs,
Who know the dead will speak beliefs
Beyond these flames: once more with water
And mud, with feathered fin again,
With web and spider’s tale, let pen
Produce the vessels, let the potter
Rebuild Seattle’s house of words;
Let beards entangle clever birds.

The Prophet Rises

June 7, 1889

The smoking signal of disaster
Is blanketing the sky and makes
Its message known: the cracked pilaster
And crumbled tombs on Blake’s
Discovered island rumble thunder –
The earth, a curtain, slips from under
The waking ghost of Chief Sealth
Upon the dawn, his day of death,
The seventh day of June, some twenty
And three Duwamish seasons dead,
Has raised a hand above a head
Still crowned in clouds of silver, flinty
As words that sparks his tongue to speak
And cut through smoke on mountain’s peak.

Read All About It

The Post-Intelligencer outlines –
(The second column from the left,
Above the fold) in piled headlines
With fonts of varied size and heft
That spread the burning news post-haste and
Describe how all the Southern lowland
Was sunk beneath a fiery sea –
The awful news: that charred debris
Is all Seattle has to sell now.
The paper tallies up the cost
The acres, blocks, and millions lost –
Both brick and wood made food for hell now –
But ends with this more hopeful claim:
A phoenix rising from the flame.

The Legend of John Back’s Death

As legend has it, whether true or
Perhaps a tallish tale, John Back
Was dry and needed more hard liquor
Than what he’d hid beneath his sack.
He barged aboard a tied-up steamer
And found a case of gin, some creamer,
A loaf of cheese — that was enough:
John grabbed the gin and other stuff —
As much as his poor arms could mule —
And would have left the ship, but that
Was not his fate; instead a rat
Appeared and challenged him to duel,
Produced a tiny pistol, fired:
John Back lay dead, wiped out, expired.

Moran Calls For Help


The fire had crossed Second Avenue, and was heading up to Third. Smoke could be seen in Tacoma, and the roar of the fire heard for miles. Help had been called in from Tacoma, Portland, and even Victoria, B.C. …

Realizing their geoduck was cooked,
Moran raced into the offices of the Sunset
Telephone-Telegraph Co. and unhooked
the contraption himself. “Get
me Tacoma!” And Portland and Victoria,
B.C., and then, remembering a noria
he’d seen on the faraway Kickapoo
River, put out a call for someone he knew,
had heard legend of, anyway—a Wisconsin
firefighter by name of Paddy or Mick
O’Somethingerother, who with a single lick
and a little spit could put out the fire in
Hades itself. “The name? People are dyin’
here! Wait; I got it … Get me O’Brien!”

Kipling Haunted by the Ghost of Pushkin

No one, not even the Government, knows the number of islands in the Sound. Even now you can get one almost for the asking; can build a house, raise sheep, catch salmon, and become a king on a small scale.

When Kipling left Seattle’s ashes
Behind and navigated north
Toward Vancouver, gentle splashes
At prow and rocking back and forth
With island views at every turning,
The ghost of Pushkin, spirit yearning
To flow again in blood and ink,
Appeared to him and bade him think
About the island kingdom every
Moran or Murphy might create
From fire of love and ash of hate
Away from worldly woe and thievery —
But only to flame up like hay
When lightning strikes on Judgement Day.

[image source]

Disillusionment at Four O’Clock on a Thursday Afternoon

By four o’clock, most residents knew
downtown Seattle was finished.
After crossing First and Second Avenue,
billowing and bellowing, undiminished,
the towering inferno climbed to Third.
The roar of the fire could be heard
for miles around, and smoke was seen
from as far away as Tacoma. Between
the heckling crowds and their abecedarian
abilities, some of the volunteers dropped
their buckets on the spot, stopped
by their own worthlessness. Marion,
Madison, and then Spring were consumed
in a matter of minutes. All doomed.

Interlibrary Loan


Epilogue: Moran Speaks from the Grave

This simpler house provides the meaning
To days and weeks and months and years:
I hear coyotes’ crafty keening
Regale the hills. I watch the bears
Awake in spring to feast and famine
Astride the banks and pawing salmon,
A chance to tip the slippery scales.
I watch the baleful breech of whales
From deep beyond what depth imagines –
An eagle spins a thermal wheel
As heaven hears the loon and teal
Refrain Seattle’s fire legends…
What starts in serendipity –
Is finished in serotiny.

Moran Watches Progress Happen

I watch the snow. It’s falling harder,
Suspended in Seattle’s show
Of lights, diffusing urban ardor
In winter’s industrial glow.
As wind demands a votive candle
To yield, so breezes tease and fondle
A flame to St. Vitus’ dance,
To flick the nave or lick the sconce,
And cast a creep of sullen shadows…
But Seattle’s progress, her mien,
Is set as cold cathedral stone
Against her fiery past. What follows?
A thread of flame, a needled fire,
And stitching brick, electric wire.

Jimmy Goin

“Despite the massive destruction of property only one person was killed by the fire, a young boy named James Goin.” – Wikipedia, “Great Seattle fire”

They say I died that day Seattle’s
Ignited skyline vented sparks
Like starry palimpsests and riddles
Of fire, dispatches from the Sphinx
To night. Such conundrums continue
To linger – the greatest knot to
Untangle, though, is Jimmy Goin –
The other side of mystery’s coin:
How to go about setting fire
To ghosts? First, telegraph the poets
With arson-odes and firebug-sonnets;
Then put Calliope on the wire –
For when she whispered out my name
My pants erupted into flame.

Melissa Moran

Melissa, memory keeps on buzzing
My head. I climb the stairs and take
A look inside our chambers, gazing
At darkness, empty, raw, awake.
The dawn begins to set the windows
On fire – eviscerating shadows.
“Oh, poor old Mr. Back,” you said
Upon discovering he’d fled
The city. “Only one casualty –
His soul, now burnt away from blood
And kin….” My love, you died in bed,
Our bed, my barren patrimony…
So cools the flame – and I endure
Your fading shade, another year.

Catalogue of Ships, Chits and Tricks

The city quickly rebuilds from the ashes, thanks in part to credit arranged by banker and entrepreneur Jacob Furth, as well as brothel owner Lou Graham.- Alex DeVeiteo, “This Month in Cascadian History”

From waterlines to forward fo’c’sles
From lumbered wood to dry-dock slips,
From mast and rudder’s groaning axles,
Moran, mighty maker of ships!
Securing lucre, bread and lolly,
From dynamo and lengthened trolley,
From credit lines to bottom lines,
Furth, fantastic fixer of loans!
From silks and stays unleashed and peeling
Lou Graham the gracious madam, pimp!
Her kneeling, laying products tempt
With plunging neckline, mirrored ceiling…
From lines thus counted proud, erect,
Seattle’s fortunes resurrect.

Kitchen Heat

But I return – over and over
I come away from urban cares,
Retreat in age from youth, and cover
My tracks the way the horrid fires
Eradicated old Seattle,
Though either way, the questions rattle
Around my head – and so I take
Up porch and house, the cordial ache
Of time and paucity’s abundance.
The evening air contracts. I steal
Inside to warm myself and feel
The kitchen stove’s discrete resplendence –
Control a flame, and age outlasts
The youthful rage, the furnace blasts.

Porch of Spirits Lingering

Rosario provides nostalgia’s
Expansive vistas – fit to swell
My younger mind with manly ideas.
(The winters so afflict this isle
Off Puget Sound – it seems too easy
For time and place to freeze. This icy
Report of snow adorns my porch
As much as silver slivers scorch
My head with age…) Though westward going
I heeded Horace Greeley, truth
Be told, in passage northwest, youth
Forgets to trace those rivers flowing
Into a sea so cold it burns,
So wide and deep, no thought returns.

Moran Against the Chinook

Then Moran ordered the Colman block
to be blown up as a sacrifice to Disaster.
All along Cherry Street, citizens gawk
at the destruction as the fires churn faster
and faster. By four o’clock in the afternoon,
smoke chokes the streets. Cinders strewn
by the wind flew through the air like devils
after catastrophe; emerging from their hovels
on Yesler Way, whores took a quick look,
shrugged, and went back to the daily grind.
By this time, most Seattleites were resigned
to destruction, some thinking, like Chinook
and the Yesler gals, it’d be better to spawn
and die. Not Moran, muttering, “Game on!”



Telegraph office, Skagit Valley, Washington

O hear the Skagit River rushing
Along its route – O signal sign
Of static change! So taps the Russian 
To telegraph an English line:
“The century’s half our poet Pushkin
Is dead – Seattle, Washington’s been
Destroyed.” Upriver, Burlington,
We log the grief that’s dashing on
With dotted lines: the honored stresses
And breaths that gave Eugene
Onegin tongue to paint the scene,
In English translation, addresses
The ever-burning verities
That manifest our destinies.