The street is lined in red light
and girls with cats in cages.
Stand outside in the frigid, January air.
The next day, the local news headline reads:
THREE ALARM FIRE RIPS THROUGH BUILDING IN CROWN HEIGHTS, BROOKLYN
I learn that a three-alarm fire means thirty-three units
One hundred and thirty-eight firefighters.
I learn that an average house fire burns at about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.
If a beloved item is well-placed and small in size, it could survive.
(But not a cat.)
But how did it start? Friends want to know,
because it happened across the street from me.
“Probably a space heater,” I say.Someone searching for comfort from the cold.
I can understand that.
All day, I stand in a poorly-heated classroom.
I wear my down coat while teaching, and the students,
upon entering the classroom,
ask me where I am going.
“Don’t worry, I’m staying here,” I reply
“I’m just cold.”
And then they say, “You’re always cold.”
And it’s surprising to them because they are not.
Because their bodies are pumped with hormones and adrenaline,
Just walking through the hallways, awash with bodies and rumors
is exhilarating enough to break into a sweat.
These days, I am teaching the children how to make metaphors.
“My hair used to be the river Nile,” one Muslim girl writes.
I think of this the on the morning after the fire
When I’m on the bus with two young girls in hijabs
The bus makes the block to avoid driving by the blackened building
Passengers are confused by this break in routine
But I know why.
One night, holding you, I dream my apartment ignites, too.
Because the foot of my bed borders the radiator.
I roll over, touch my toes to the metal, and flinch awake.
The next morning, while making my bed,
I am careful to pull my covers away from the heater, eliminating the fire hazard.
And while riding the subway, away from you,
I am careful to test my resolve against the coldest of potential outcomes.
If this all burned down now, there would not be enough alarms
or firemen. The ash would smolder for the rest of our lives.
But I relax and remember
that the shop down the street sells hot crab soup,
And the bars stay open even when the snow closes the schools.
So through winter, we keep our love well-placed,
Small in size, like a coal—
like the hand-warmers crammed in our ski gloves
[They ended up blackening our hands.]
Love, if I start to shiver —
don’t worry, I’m staying here.
I’m just cold.
Caroline (Higgins) Nyczak (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.