What Fire Prevented

This narrative poem was written in hospital during a chemo session, contemplating God’s sending a perceived “calamity” that might be, in fact, heading off a worse one. Gratitude for every state we find ourselves in, in every condition, is the most open-hearted basis of our being, and seeing the possibility that, not “things could be worse” exactly, but that what He’s sent to us in the way of a difficulty could be forestalling or outright subverting something far graver. This poem is the story metaphor of that contemplation…


The circus let out early and the
elephant sat in her cage

Clowns removed their white to their natural
pink or brown underneath

The contortionist stretched out for a
lengthy nap

along his entire length
as normal as anyone supine

Josie the tightrope walker walked between the
caravans puffing on her forbidden

cigarette in the slight haze of this
tropical afternoon

The giraffe’s heads towered above the
caravan roofs and the

village children from afar delighted in their
phantasmal shapes

All is well on the circus grounds
and nothing is afoot

No skullduggery or malfeasance no
shady dealings or larcenous absconding

but only a usual afternoon among these
unusual folk for whom a

nice afternoon off though somewhat
rare is a welcome and

calming respite to an otherwise
irregular and certainly offbeat if not

bohemian life


When the fire broke out
the lion was asleep

What no one knew was that an
entire angelic order had been

assigned to watch over the circus
because of the child born to the Argentinean

trapeze artists who at
the time were picnicking with their

five children at the
edge of the grounds

the saintly baby in a
basket surrounded by birds

A loud crack as the main
tent pole split in two

a great roaring bellow as the canvas
in the main tent caught fire

smoke billowed above the
circus as if phantom hippopotamus

herds were riding down the sky
though on each billow an

angel rode to keep the
flames from harming a single soul

as everyone awoke or ran in their
panic to the water buckets

always at the ready for such

Cries and shouts of the
circus performers and crew

pulling animal wagons away
calling to each other through

chugging billows of
brown smoke


The flames resembled leaping lions
jabbing snakes

relentless in their attacks and hot

a vicious darkness where there’d
been ebullient light and

tuba oompahs and flight through hoops

but while Hell seems to have
opened up at this happy circus

what’s fascinating is the
angelic squadrons fanning

out in the unseen to save each soul
suddenly making real the

feats of daring and aerial acrobatics
that outlined by flames now become so


Billions of angels came in phalanges and filed in
troops between the fire and all the

people and beasts

They tumbled through belches of smoke
and flew in the rafters’ heights as well as

at the low level of wagon wheels and
floppy clowns

combating sheets of fire with their
angelic ice

lessening its outraged effects
against the innocent joys of

brightly painted matter
suddenly vulnerable to the

disease of burning

for that one precious baby destined to
shine in the eternal worlds as

saint and messenger among us

same as that spot of perfection in our
bodies unscorched by any

outbreak and surrounded by
angelic air invulnerable to its


That sea of light in the
clenched ball of darkness that is

our mortal being
doomed to incinerate in its


that flying baby in the
wild circus of our being

angelically protected
that leads us into God’s

cool asbestos atmospheres beyond all

the leaping sweet roar of it made more
agile than even death’s

deep earthly plodding


Josie sat on a coil of
uncharred rope and unburnt pulleys

and noticed how frayed the
rope was in places and how

close it was to breaking

The clowns went through the
unharmed remains of their

dressing room tents and noticed
the old tins of clown white’s ingredients

included traces of poisonous lead

The saved heap of nets the flames missed
showed signs of rot

The trapeze artists with the saintly
child saw their old but unscorched rigging

had been about to shred
as they coughed their way to where they

lay in ropey zigzags across the dirt

But the old main tent was flakes of
ashen canvas

The wooden center rings were black dust

The lion lay asleep on his huge paws

The elephant gazed through slow wise
eyes at his fifth disaster since


as the circus performers thanked their
God that what He threatened them with

saved them from worse calamities

and another day dawned and the
circus put itself back together

and moved on

6/10-11/12 (from Down at the Deep End)

Categories: Poems, Angels, Cancer Treatment