Having never lost everything in a fire – poem for Fort McMurray


Having never lost everything in a fire,
I’d like to think I’d take it philosophically,
apply the long view—possessions…transitory.

I’d like to think a house is a house,
the bedroom (with my son’s painting over the nightstand),
simply a comfortable place to sleep.

My little office, rows of dusty books (some signed), replaceable;
journals and photo albums, yes, harder.
But I escaped unscathed…right?

The living room (funny how couch cushions
shape to our bodies), and the kitchen,
(nicks and cracks in the pine table),
what are these rooms? …merely places we gathered,
as family (laughing, retelling stories of the nicks and cracks).

Clearly, I’d like to think my old Ford Ranger (and all
those miles), unworthy of recollection,
so too, my forgotten guitar,
(which just now reminds me of the old band).

Oh, and that little project in the garage for Mother’s Day…

I’d even like to think a neighbourhood can be exchanged,
people pick up and move after all.

I’d like to think this because in some impersonal,
disembodied world, it’s true.

Except for this chest-weight calling out the lie;
except for the wrinkle that none of us live in the ephemeral,

but in the trusses and rafters of everyday,
in the retaining wall of life-moments—
(growth charts on door frames), hallways
of birthdays, anniversaries, graduations—sorrows and joys,
imprinted in drywall, hardwood, and stucco ceiling,
set on a foundation of relationships.

For every space we come to occupy,
we bring some yearning and permanent part of ourselves,
begin to build with hope and sweat,

until we know, intimate and unconscious,
that a house is not a house, but a haven of memories,
a frame, a form—meaning home.

To lose it, forced to flee from it,
seems a kind of death, unique to itself.

Not enough to know that time heals,
for time may not heal all…

Time now, for grieving.
Time now for empathy—joined hearts, joined hands.

Here’s the latest list of resources for evacuees, and ways we can help.

(photo credit huffingtonpost.ca)


  1. Thank you Steve for your encouraging lines,,, many of the clips I have seen on TV remind me of my first years in Alberta,,, how complete strangers can reach out and aid someone on the side of the road and people opening there homes to help folks that have lost theirs,,, in a world that has lots of terror there are common folks that care and love their fellow human beings,, Phil

  2. Thanks Uncle Steve, We no longer live up there but I think you have captured how our friends and the people of Fort McMurray feel.

  3. Thanks so much Jonathan! I was thinking of you and Laura, knew you would be worrying about your many friends still living there. Happy for safety, but so sad for all the loss. Prayers and thoughts.

  4. cannot say as much, struggle to even feel, as the watching is numbing, but each look inside reveals what these words express, and a scream is stifled so we can keep moving, not knowing…

  5. Thank you Uncle Steve and thank you for this beautifully written acknowledgement of what so many are feeling. You have captured the struggle of reconciling what the head wants to believe with what the heart feels. We too are thankful for safety and praying for continued safety for all the first responders and support people up there fighting the fire. Yet the sadness is so real as we hear the stories of loss.

  6. So beautifully written, this captures what is weighing so many people down in spite of the amazing blessings of everyone getting out, and the outpouring of love that people are trying their best to send out to the dispossessed. Thank you for writing it – every word and thought is perfect. I too would like to see it shared. Thank you, Stephen, for finding the words, images, and a concrete vehicle needed to deal with the overwhelming feelings of those living this, as well as those having to watch and wanting to help.

  7. Stephen, I have been thinking of you and your fellow Canadians in the midst of this horrendous fire. A colleague and I teach a climate change course and used to use a National Geographic series of short video clips that imagined a planet 1, 2, up through 6 degrees warmer. I forget if it was 5 or 6 degrees, but one had images of devastating fires. As I saw the Fort McMurray images, I couldn’t help but recall the videos — which seemed almost like sci-fi at the time.

    I fear for what lies ahead for our world and its inhabitants.

  8. The losses are truly devastating–both on a personal and what looks to be a looming planetary basis. Unfortunately, those most affected are folks simply trying to make a living. Nevertheless, thanks for that perspective Diane.

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