A THEORY OF FIRE
As is evident to all, fire and earth and water and air are bodies. And every sort of body possesses volume, and every volume must necessarily be bounded by surfaces. (Plato)
In the sleeping bodies are the moby dreams of history, the moby dreams of the not-seen and the not-allowed, and the wet noses of seeing-eye dogs, the dream-seeing metaphors. Anything becoming visible casts its shadowy moby dream.
We had wonderful fire brigades. They’d march with hose reels in Dominion Day parade. They’d have meetings once a week. They had a minute book. The first fire chief was Sam Pedgrift. He absconded with the funds from the firemen’s minstrel show. They had 2000 feet of hose for water tanks sunk in the ground at Maple Tree Square and the corner of Dunsmuir and Granville. Then they got a Hayes spring-loaded aerial ladder. They got an engine pulled by horses, with a boiler of burnished nickel. They called it M.A. MacLean after the mayor. Later, they decided to pay the men.
So far, neither ambulances nor fire-engines carry ads for pizza, real-estate agents or cell-phones. Just a motto, Serving with pride. Since 1886. Wandering as musicians, gleemen, jongleurs, bards, troubadours – they buzz and hum of hydrants and halls, codes and trucks – red, yellow, or white. All over North America, the words in their songbooks – fuel, oxygen, heat, combustion – form the sides of a pyramid.
Let it be agreed, then, both according to strict reason and according to probability, that the pyramid is the solid which is the element and seed of fire. Consider the fineness of the sides and the sharpness of the angles and the smallness of the particles and the swiftness of the motion – all this makes fire violent and sharp so that it cuts whatever it meets.
It often happens, says Hume, that after we have lived a considerable time in any city, however at first it might be disagreeable to us, yet as we become familiar with the streets and buildings, the aversion diminishes by degrees, and at last changes into the opposite passion. For sun avenue and moon alley, fire highway and water cul-de-sac, hotel knife and flesh cloister, château dry and wet yard, public drive and household rooms, hunter boulevard and gatherer lane, piazza ploughshare and ground wynd, sacred parade and occult walk, above circus and below gardens, villa day and night asylum, cutter mansion and weaver mews, master auditorium and servant bungalow, order capital and chaos ghetto, father castle and mother kiosk.
The human condition is one of habitat. Habitude. Habit hutches. Arsonists will declare cave-ins and fold-ups, and stay at the scene mesmerized by lapsing disassemblage and abstract in-co-therence, hoping at last to lose facade. But fire-fighters bring attack hose, adapters and aerial ladders. Piss on this oxidation with master streams gushing 500 gallons a minute. Who gets to piss higher? They crank open hydrants and flake out yellow hoses to save the farm-iseum. Save the internet cafe, the Pender Grocery with its smoking ice-cream sign. Save the retro-girl fashion-boutique and the haberdashery for the finest ranch mink.
Percivals and Gallahads and Lancelots in yellow rubber chain-mail charge up on their red steeds. They lower their visors and dash their swords at magician flashover and sorcerer bankdown, driving their lances into false doors of habitation. Doors that are not doors. Doors that lead endlessly to the same frames. The knights are the frames and the frames are crusades for the doors, the video-tape of cameramen and the microphones of news crews touting avenues and lanes, boulevards and alleys. Far far away from the manholes to metropolitan unconscious.