Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 3, 2007
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Robert Rotondo
Dan Stefik
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somverville
David Solway
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Tracy Robinson is a sculptor, poet and fiction writer. Her poems and fiction appear in Horizons, Creations, L’Embarcadère and Archipelago. Winner ofthe 2007 Archipelago author’s grant, the Visa/Passeport Youth Literary Prize and an honorarium awarded by Groupe Beauchemin, she lives in Montreal and Vancouver Island.

I finished writing the Captain exams. The next day, I was transferred to Pumper 7 (Station 7) on the corner of Parliament and Dundas Streets. At that time Station 7 was the busiest hall in Canada, and it was not unusual for three trucks in the hall (Pumper 7, Pumper 4 and Aerial 7) to log a combined total of close to 10, 000 calls in any one year. Pumper 7 was the busiest truck in Canada logging over 4000 calls in one year. Captain Peter Hart told me these things over coffee, in the kitchen, the night he retired and I started as Substitute Captain. I had heard about Station 7, expected a white night.

But it was quiet, too quiet. The crew surprised us with a song and a fire truck cake. The frosting said "Happy Retirement, Peter!" Peter shook his head as the men patted his back and gave him the cake. The men sang on. Tears welled up in Peter's eyes. He asked me to cut the cake. I took the cake out of his hands, cut even sized pieces, put them on side plates, grabbed clean forks, and served everyone. We sat down. Just as I sliced a piece of frosting the phone rang from Control.

Everyone but Peter responded. False alarm. "Get plenty of them," said a new young recruit by the name of Kevin Delaney. He slurped cold coffee and went on floor watch. The rest of us resumed eating Peter's cake.

Then, more false alarms.

After happy hour, a distress call. "Lady not too badly hurt, already known to us, Rose Petal," said Jesse Grimes, a cop and my friend since high school. "Control's overloaded," he snorted. "Welfare day." I imagined ambulance drivers trying to keep up with the ODs. "Would you take this call," he said, "as a favour?" I cleared my throat. He muttered: "her boyfriend's married to my cousin. He's a decent bar owner, a good client."

One fire truck responded. No beater, decent-looking or not. One shut-eyed Rose Petal, thin, moist, hot, asked why the cops hadn't come. "Hm," she added, "they had to be chasing real bad guys." Kevin went to her and we went to the truck and five minutes later he came out and we returned to the hall without a record of the call.

Around 3

a.m. Kevin snored by the phone. I nudged him, told him to catch a wink in the bunk. Put a veteran firefighter, Jack Knight, on floor watch. The rest of us sat in the kitchen, watched the film Deer Hunter on TV.

Well into Deer Hunter, Jack took a call at 4:12 a.m. to an apartment building on Shuter Street. Kevin came down that pole like a caught lover, suspenders down, eyes wide. Three trucks responded. Pumper 7, Pumper 4 and Aerial 7.

Upon arrival, the third floor of a 5 story wooden structure was almost fully involved in fire. Kevin and I rescued a family. Then I saved a stranded man. When I got down from the ladder Kevin tugged me. I turned to my right. On the north side of the building there was a walkway about 4 feet wide to the next building. I noticed a man in the walkway. He bore a striking resemblance to the guy on the book Dahlia raved about the day before. "My heart rejoices," he shouted. I shot a look at him. He turned around and ran. Fuckin' nut might've lit this place up, I muttered. Poets . .

* * *

My love is that of a child
For the milky hard teat of a young mother
My love is stronger than the finest tree
My heart weeps to the end of her dreams as she sleeps

* * *

Four lines scribbled on the inside of a metal case unscathed by fire. Four lines. Four lines Dad couldn't forget. Each time he remembered them a slow anger rose, burned and spread like virus in his guts.

After the Shuter Street fire, the days slipped by, cloudless, long, hot and humid, filled with orders. Pass the mop. Clean the truck. Check the oxygen tanks and Scott air packs. Cook breakfast, lunch, supper. Wash the dishes. “Lady in the hall” (this meant the firemen had to be gentlemen, not say, for example, profanities). Dad gave orders with his eyes. Yes, Captain Tom. Sure thing. His men followed the orders a little less sad each day, a little more concerned one day he would chuck his stub in and go home, never to return.

But work kept Dad going. That summer there were many house and bar fires, two mighty industrial fires. The usual high number of motor vehicle wrecks, to which cops were slow to respond except in high profile cases. Summer was also the season city councilors encouraged journalists to take front page color photos of men fighting fires. (Of course women fought fire, too, but there were few of them and they did not sell newspapers.) Public appreciation for firemen, smog hung over the city like yellow phlegm. The crabs of cancer ate citizens with the rapidity of starving armies. Foot fungus mushroomed and perfumed bodies stank. Fire in the summer heat took its toll on the fittest of firemen, who collapsed, now and then, like flies. Unbearable heat turned the best of window screamers into withering lilies. Lilies, Dad would say, and smirk. The fires kept Dad sane, his mind off me.

But summer heat drove some people crazy. At the fire hall, I sometimes sat on my dad's bunk, caressed his wrinkled brow as he thought of a policy like Montreal's where firemen only responded to fire and car wrecks, people under trains. At summer's end, Dad took a fire call but when he arrived at the house, there was no sign of fire. Kevin and Jack stood behind him; he knocked on the door and Jack called out. No answer. The front door was slightly ajar. The firemen entered the house. They called out, but no one answered. The men dispersed. Dad used his walkie-talkie to tell his men from Pumper 4 to take care of the hoses and drive back. Suddenly, a man sitting perched on bunk bed swung a crowbar at Jack and knocked him out. Kevin who was nearby soon found Jack and spoke friendly-like with the attacker. Kevin could pacify the most fearful dogs and men, and the attacker was soon subdued.

Within half a minute, if that, Dad came. I slipped into his hard, tense body. He was tired of people other times their pets attacking firemen, and, at times, him. If we are attacked, Dad thought, we should be armed. The cops came late, did not take kindly to one of Dad's hurt firemen, but remained blasé until their animated discovery of dismembered bodies. Kevin made a small remark that lifted tension away from my father and set the cops to work diligently. I stepped out of Dad, grateful Kevin was nearby. Every man has vices. If Kevin had any, Dad assumed, his were off-duty -- not in the Captain's log.

One night drunk, Kevin climbed our tree, fell, climbed up again, threw cinnamon hearts at my window. Down below, I stretched out on the hammock. My younger sister came to the window, plopped herself on the bench and opened the window past a crack.

"Dahlia." Kevin sang horribly out of tune. "You are here, oh Dahlia . . . Dahlia . . . "

"Dahlia died, Kevin."

"I'm sorry, Dahlia, I'm late. You look beautiful."

"I'm not Dahlia. It's me, Iris. You can sleep in our tree-house. I'll bring you a blanket."

Iris left and reappeared opening and closing the back door gently. She strode out on the yellow dry grass carrying a rucksack. She wore her oversize Dinosaur Jr t-shirt and my denim Capri pants, too big on her, now ripped of course, and brown leather metal bracelets, and a small nose ring.

"Let me help you," said Kevin, offering a hand.

Iris tapped his hand out of the way and climbed up into the tree-house, her red hair falling in waves on the floor. She stood up and went through her rucksack. "Blanket -- better than just planks -- and ginger ale, for the dry pasties in your mouth, upset stomach in a while."

Kevin approached her from behind and touched her hair.

Iris shot around.



"Here you are." Kevin smiled and leaned into Iris and she jolted back. She took his finger and rubbed it over the tiny diamond in her nose.

"Feel that?"

"You got a nose ring?"

"I do. Dahlia never wore a nose ring, or this." Iris stuck out her tongue, flashed a tiny star. "Dahlia wore fake diamonds--"

I did not!

"In her ears. She dumped you for a mediocre poet--"

A genius!

"Doused his rat hole with gas, threw a lit match and left her . . . asleep . . . to die."


"What?" Kevin's face screwed up.

I shot up to the tree-house and squatted in mid-air in front of Iris, my arms folded.

"On the front page of The Sun, no, not you, the rat," Iris muttered, "sorry. We'll talk when you're sober."

Iris stomped around Kevin, fudge, apple, feather, thumb, honey, ginger, chili, finger, blue, berry. More random words. My sister's silence broken by a lingering lilt of desire, her light eyes gazed into Kevin's black eyes. Desire forced down words like cold, water, soft. You aren’t how I was, I told her. You don’t play dead. Or smell fragrant. Or let your hair fall in your eyes. Anyway, I thought you had the gene, or choice, to be a lesbian. Ah never mind. You can’t even hear—see—me. Iris leapt into Kevin’s arms and kissed him on the mouth. He stumbled, managed to catch her but lost his balance and landed on his knees, forcing his weight backward, to prevent Iris from smacking the planks.

Kevin shut his eyes for a moment. Held her as he very slowly got up, placed her arms at her side. He felt her strong, short legs slither down his and then he opened his eyes. “Little T Rex,” he said smiling, wavering, knowing that she really was my kid sister. I remembered he had called her that since she was very young. Little T Rex (Tyrannosaurus Rex).

Iris eyed Kevin. "Get rest," she said.

Later, Kevin woke to the sound of Iris scuffing the old planks. Kevin opened an eye. “Dad knows that you slept here. I told him. He says to come down and eat breakfast with us.”

“I did not save her. I did not rescue your sister.”

Iris looked down.

Kevin sat up and looked at Iris. “I wanted to kill him.”

“The rat who claims to be a poet and isn’t even a wisecracker.”

“I went to the shit-hole wanting to kill the bastard for taking Dahlia away from me. I got as far as the smelly front door and realized that Dahlia left, broke our engagement, which obviously meant nothing to her.”

Iris walked closer to Kevin and sat down. Iris said, "So you left."

Kevin said, “I left. Saw a rat enter a hole beside the door and enter the stinking apartment. Worst thing I can say. Maybe the rat knocked over a candle.”

Iris said, “You were too good for her.”

Kevin leaned back and glanced at Iris. She leaned over to kiss him, and he noticed her long red hair, which was hanging wet down her back. She wore another Dinosaur Jr shirt this one a tank over a bikini and a figure nothing like a child's. Kevin noticed that she did not have Dahlia's flawless beauty. He saw Iris's freckled face, her pale mouth, neck, eyes somewhere between green grass and earth color. Rough, small hands. Short, athletic. Still young; heading for seventeen. But that sense of knowing what she wanted unlike Dahlia's uncertainty and passivity appealed to him. Iris kissed his cheeks, her leg grazing his thigh. She turned her head, caught him looking and smiled at him. "Get a move on then," her breath inferno cinnamon. "I want you for breakfast." She smelled like dandruff shampoo and a wet dog.

Quietly Kevin reached behind him, shook the ginger ale bottle. Iris knew, fought with him to unscrew the cap. Though she was quick and feisty, Kevin had the upper hand and doused her and she reached up and slipped a piece of mushy ripe apricot in his mouth. She was so close he kissed her. A great true embrace. Her teeth bruised his lip.

Kevin groaned inwardly, trying not to alert Captain Tom, who might appear at any moment as Iris's dad. Dahlia was dead, shifting in and out of the tree’s crown. Kevin turned away, kissed Iris. Dahlia’s dead, he repeated, in his head. In life there was no fire in her, and now, edging near blastoff, Kevin was also aware that he was so powerfully attracted to Iris that even when the ghost of Dahlia and threat of the father plagued him, Iris affected him in other ways he couldn't control. Kevin let go but not until Iris hugged him.

* * *

In July 2001 we received a fire call at approximately 4:10 a.m. to an apartment on Shuter Street. Three trucks responded. Pumper 7, Pumper 4 and Aerial 7. I drove Pumper 7.

Upon arrival, the third floor of a 5 story wooden structure looked involved. I parked the truck, called Central to let them know we had arrived, asked Captain Tom Wood if a couple of guys and I could go inside.

I knew that Dahlia might have been in the building. I did not say something on the way there because I did not know for sure it was that building until I drove up and recognized the facade.

The journalists hounded the Captain. He told them to leave us to do our job, ordered more experienced firemen to go into the building and me to stay with him.

Then I approached the Captain, said Dahlia's name. He said, "What?" quickly assessing the structure and visible occupants. I said "Dahlia" over a crowd of reporters and the screaming coming from upstairs.

Captain Tom called up for a ladder. For a second, I looked up. At the northwest corner of the building on the fourth floor there was a man, a woman and a baby hanging out a window. They were obviously in deep distress screaming that the fire was at their front door. "Kevin, come on."

"But Tom!" I panicked. For a second, if that, he looked disapprovingly, because of informal address while we were on duty, but mostly because of my state of panic. Dahlia was in there. She had to be. Captain shot his hand behind him, said, "We are going to rescue them now." He turned around and walked on.

A 45 foot ladder was raised to the 4th floor and Captain Tom climbed to the top along with me right behind him. We soon realized in the haste to raise the ladder away from the wall, and with poor visibility from the amount of smoke in the walkway we were about 6 or 7 feet to the right of the window. Captain Tom yelled down to pick up the ladder (with us on it) and to move it to the left as he pulled the ladder away from the wall and moved it one foot at a time towards the window. All the time the screaming from the man, more from the woman, was getting louder and louder. It was the only time in my career as a firefighter I wanted to abandon the scene, to go, on a guess, a horrible guess, to another potentially fatal scene.

While waiting for the baby, my worry ceased, just then. I imagined Dahlia unlike Lily one, two, three, four, five . . . to infinity. Dahlia was not Rose Petal. I imagined Dahlia, a fireman's daughter, alert with a damp towel over her nose and mouth, keeping low to the ground, using good judgment, finding safety. What I thought was what I pretended. Dahlia would be trapped.

* * *

I above, Kevin below, we reached the window and I looked behind the baby, woman and man. Sure enough the fire was coming through the doorway of the bedroom. I told the woman to pass me the baby but don't let go till I say. When I had the baby I passed it around to Kevin and he took it down to the ground. The woman backed out of the window onto the ladder in front of me and I crawled around her so that Kevin who was back could take her down. Down the ladder, she changed into what we firemen call a lily. Daisy was her name, if I am not mistaken. Kevin and I were not too worried about her physical health. She screamed all right. Priority was, get her out. Half way down, she let go of the ladder. Daisy was one those women who fall into us because we are life savers, we are modern day heroes, but mostly so they can feel like a princess for a minute, or two. Kevin caught her fall. He made her girlhood dream come true. I'm glad though the Lily held herself together earlier when she was holding a baby.

The man was next, and as I started down with him, there was another man on his balcony about 10 to 12 feet to my right. After going back to get him, and we were on our way down, I looked over at the bedroom and saw that the room was fully involved and the fire was coming out the window.

There was no doubt in any of our minds that night, that those three persons would have perished either from the fire or by jumping if in the last 5 to 10 minutes we did not rescue them.

About a couple of weeks later the parents and their baby girl came to the hall for a visit and to thank us.

I remember holding the baby and thinking if it had not been from our combined effort that night none of them would be here.

Dahlia would be here if only I . . . if only I got to her sooner.

The fire inspectors’ report on the cause of the fire was inconclusive. The man whom I saw in the walkway was the poet on Dahlia’s book. He talked Jesse and the boys around circles. Finally told them one story and stuck to it, proved sound. He was a tenant in the building. According to another tenant, the poet did light a match and eye it for "longer than a respectable second or two.” No amount of Jesse's help could beat a confession out of either man. Jesse was sorry, really. Manpower to keep the case going is spent. There are after all, says Jesse, other bad guys to chase.

Dahlia, my little flower . . .

When I find the fire starter, or starters, every cop in this city will come to whip into shape. Then I will do the unpardonable, and walk.

* * *

I do not remember escaping the fire. That is worse than not escaping it. Did I look back, stagger, and look back at the room engulfed in flames?

I can remember moments before the fire. The little rat I would have screamed about and would have called you here to dispose of. But the wine had its effects on me; I felt slightly dizzy but mellow. André had written the last four lines and went for his late night walk in the city, like he had done so many times after writing a poem. I remember feeling a headache move back a little, falling asleep with my clothes on. In a dream, the rat knocked down a lit candle and gnawed on a wine-dipped fish scale until the candle flame caught its tail and it scurried away.

In a dream, I slept in the fire.

Next thing I remember is the lifting of my charred body out onto a stretcher, and later, liberation, looking down at Kevin, and then my father, after they heard that body was mine. In both instances they were like young boys with overdeveloped imaginations fleeing their nightmares, reaching for Mother, whom they saw had changed so dramatically. Their faces contorted at the horror of finding a pirate queen. Worse, a ghost of a pirate queen chastising them for failing to rescue me from the fire. She came to steal their secrets to happiness. And she succeeded. They fell to their knees and retched.

* * *

Out on the morning sky a ball of blue fire glimmered, the rise of the last smoke. I appeared as I was then, an apparition. Iris did not see me. She looked up: “you think that I torched you, right? Isn’t that right? I did not set the fire, Dahlia. Just so you know. I guess if it’s true that the dead become ghosts, and you, oh, just happen to be near me, you may know things. Like nobody, at least nobody I know, set the fire you were in. The papers point to André. Oh! The free publicity helps him finally make a success of his words, plus who can deny he loves to see himself like a bard in the papers? The more insane those writers picture him the better.”

Iris looked around. The remnants of the burnt building a black tangle, the metal case a funeral stele, people walked by. A fire inspector collected the metal case. Iris crouched against the parking meter. She buried her hands in her face, held her breath, tears. She stood up and threw gravel stones, charred pieces of glass, past the yellow tape, at fire damage. Dahlia, Iris shouted in her mind, you stupid girl, why did you come here? There was nothing for you here.

Ah God, you were selfish.

* * *

I heard whores on the street talk of fire in my tenement. I ran home. When I saw the blaze, I panted for air, worried about my metal case, a gift from my mother. She traveled with it during the last world war. Before the case was hers it belonged to an RAF pilot who fathered my mother and wrote to his mistress, my grandmother, love poems. I kept the history of the case a secret.

Earlier in the evening, a fireman's daughter said to me the four lines scribbled inside the case were written about her, yes? Yes, I told her. I wrote them for her. That cased the deal, a last night with her.

My metal case is destroyed, or stolen.

But my heart rejoices. Such a beautiful woman fell asleep in my arms, happy. She died happy.

A fire took her life. Saved her from all the hot and bother of discovering what a liar I am, a cheat, worse than a rat.

I did not set the fire though I can honestly say the fire set me on a different course. Why wait to be burned to purify? I have decided to start being a loyal, honest man today.

* * *

Today was a rather quiet day for firemen in the city. You cannot plan a quiet day. None of the firemen complained except some of the new recruits.

Dad, Iris and Kevin came to my grave today, a little over a year after my passing. Iris placed roses in my urn. Dad brushed dry leaves aside from my name. Kevin hugged Iris and Dad. Then together they held hands, Iris in the middle.

There was a gentle breeze, red leaves falling. The air was cool, a little easier to breathe, for the living. = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
Care + Net Computer Services
Couleur JAZZ 91.9
Couleur JAZZ 91.9
E-Tango: Web Design and lowest rates for web hosting
Armand Vaillancourt: sculptor
Available Ad Space
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis