My Family Sleeps in New Beds

Poems By Brittany CagleBrittany Cagle

Brittany Cagle is currently an MFA candidate focusing in creative nonfiction at the University of South Florida. Her poetry and prose has most recently appeared in Spry Literary Journal Issues 2 and 4, Sweet: A Literary Confection, Welter, Mad Swirl, and is forthcoming in The Stray Branch. Her poetry was recently nominated for the 2014 AWP Intro Journals Award. She works as a creative writing instructor at the University of South Florida and as the Nonfiction and Art Editor for Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art.

 
Read an interview with Brittany Cagle. 
 
 
To honor the victims of the Rhode Island Station Nightclub Fire, February 20, 2003.

 The Station Fire Memorial Foundation

Post Trauma, Episode One

When my own father
became a stranger,
that moment:

he stands in our kitchen
one week after the fire, body
rigid, smoke

still in his uniform, the police
badge scrapes against
my chin. My father,

distant as his hands
fall stiff on my back, contorted
with their burns. He cannot

filter my words from the shrieking
alarm or the coughing
in the dimming hallways.

I watch his eyes search for bodies
gripped to flame, for victims
he cannot save,

and for those glittering
arcs of flames. The roar in
his head holding on—

 

Mom saw him standing

in the snow wrestling
with the crystal
coals of his episode.

Hunched against the wind,
a hooded figure—he was
a pale face.

She told me he didn’t notice her
tired gaze from the upstairs
bedroom window.

To him, firewood snowflakes
seared streets and rooftops
in a red fog where
sky could be.

She left him alone
in winter morning. Left him
shutting out the wind
and told me what post-trauma
meant

because I was too young
to know my father
had become a different man.

 

After the Fire, My Family Sleeps in New Beds

I think of 8 Cobblestone Terrace
and how I raced streetlights
home on a shady road
of frame houses
before my father would wake

how I knew it was winter
from smoke brim of chimney
and my mother’s flowers
decaying on the windowsill

in what was my backyard,
the trees were all bare
from snow layer strain
and the trampoline stretched
its mesh to grass

and then I think of nail scars
ghosting the walls,
wood stain from frames,
and the weight of luggage

on the front steps
once my father began to see
flashbacks in the kitchen windows

how outside a plane
window, my home shriveled
into the roar of engines
and my mother told me
this was our only chance
to begin our lives
again.

 

Re • mote 1. Hidden away; secluded: far removed: as when the Rhode Island news fills the small television screen and everything is taken out of your hands, out of your mouth; all of your words find truth in being still, watching someone you love sort through layers of ash, bone, and fallen plywood; you wonder if this really is your father walking in his police uniform among the others, holding a trash bag, still searching for unidentified victims, finding only crumpled ticket stubs, melted disposable cameras, and unclaimed debit cards. 2. (Of a chance or possibility) unlikely to occur; as when Joshua and Lindsey, the two children next door, wait to hear from their mother, their eyes on the body count at the bottom of the monitor; they watch the digits rise, one by one; and weeks later the other police officers’ wives will watch this ghost face of your father and wonder why your mother doesn’t leave him; you ask yourself the same question when you’re forced to move from your old life to start another, but know something about how, with time, books can become indistinguishable on the shelves; your own limbs can become strangers, blur in the darkness of your bed when the only thing left of the day is the sunburn in your skin and it has you turning in the covers; it will be years before you understand what this all means, before you unfold your hands, find only a fistful of shadows.

 

Handmade Crosses at the Memorial Site

I.

In Rhode Island, dead
grass cradles tiny wood
crosses. A new year pushes
frost on their unwritten
memoirs.

II.

Traci, only oak trees were her witnesses,
shadow mirages, outside looking in.
Through a charcoal entrance of wood
and arch, her arms waited
to be pulled. She was a young mother
of two. I used to braid
her daughter’s hair.

III.

Pamela, who I read about in the newspaper,
was urged to go out by her closest friends.
Go out, you never go out.”
She went out, watched fingerprints
cloud the windows of the Station, felt weight
of other bodies she didn’t know—stacks
of people, seconds from fire—all pressed
in one entryway. She got out
and died in the hospital.

IV.

Nicholas, the youngest
victim at 18, finally old enough
to buy one of the last tickets to see
the headlining band, Great White,
but instead watched flames as they licked
the bass drum inked in paint, watched guitar
strings curl in recoil, and listened as coughing
became a ballad in the hallway.

V.

The crowd, who thought fire
was part of the show, who cheered
as spiral flares sucked onto stage. Too late,
they began to realize as fear ignited
in the surrounding faces that knew.
Smoke may not have stolen all
of their voices. Ask the bodyguard
who yelled the stage exit was “for the band only.”
He must still hear their pleas.

VI.

The lead guitarist, TY,
who many survivors choose to ignore.
It wasn’t his decision to set off pyrotechnics
against warning. His sparks didn’t ignite
sound insulation foam. Still, his cross
is spray-painted, splintered and without
a card. His voice must remain with Daniel,
the band’s touring manager, who wishes
he could turn back and undo
that match.

VII.

and for the survivors, who still listen
for a fire alarm and for red
and blue spirals—infinite sirens
echoing into their nights.

 

Ways to Worry

Become a victim inside the brain.
Tell yourself it’s just a sickness,
a product of genes, singular and self contained.
Remain tar-glued for life to a sack of impulses.

Tell yourself it’s just a sickness.
Talk like there’s a fistful of dirt in your mouth.
Remain tar-glued for life to a sack of impulses.
Like an insect collection, keep your words pinned down.

Talk like there’s a fistful of dirt in your mouth.
Give up abstract beliefs like love, soul, and god.
Like an insect collection, keep your words pinned down
out of your mouth and mapped onto your palms.

Give up abstract beliefs like love, soul, and god.
Think about your future, or else tomorrow couldn’t come.
Out of your mouth, mapped out onto your palms
the constant thumbing of the mind, your confession strung.

Think about the future, or else tomorrow couldn’t come.
A product of genes, singular and self contained.
The constant thumbing of the mind, your confession strung.
Become a victim inside the brain.

 

Link to the Station Fire Memorial Foundation

Contributor Notes

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