Calamity is a fire that obliterates everything but itself. Explodes you out of accustomed ways
of being, your accustomed ways of seeing.
Home will be home again some day. But how to go back when I go back?
To the cocoon of a condo on Calimyrna Ave, named for the Valley fig with roots in ancient Smyrna. Transplanted to Fresno, open-vowelled Spanish for this land of ash trees. A Calimyrna condo my children loved; a nest, post-marriage, for my birdlings and me.
Restoration companies bid for the assignment. They talk of structural damage and loss of use. Personal property divided between the salvageable and unsalvageable. They’ll rebuild the drywall and replace the very frame of the roof. Trust in technology to abate the asbestos, ozone the smoke odor out of all that can be saved. Even my long-awaited, long-traveled couch and carpet—off-white in color because why not, now that the kids are grown up and gone. Those belongings will be good as new, they say. Some day.
I’m grateful. I believe.
But who will restore the cindered self? Compile an inventory of the ways I used to be?
Insurance companies speak of policy limits. I never gave thought to limits on anything.
It was quite the conflagration, covered by local news. Fire trucks lining the street like a long, metallic, red-hot ribbon. Come, gather and gawk! Behold the blaze, the sublime of the spectacle, the spark of a story—and in its wake, a heart.
Charred, its capacity. Lavished with abandon—a self-indulgence, as though at some all-you-can-give buffet. No thought of depletion, the finiteness of things. Finally, a reckoning.
A baptism of fire. My world, a blistering cliché.
With apocalypse comes revelation. The busy, the awkward, the indifferent. The scorching scarcity of grace.
“Let me know if you need anything” when calamity strikes.
When fire burns a hole through the life you knew, what you need is warmth.
There’s no explaining irony to the oblivious.
Like a crazed pyromaniac, I watch my bridges burning.
From Calimyrna’s ashen attic, no phoenix rises. Just a bleak light dawning through the haze. Now, in my one little flame of life, an eternity to re-see. Of learning to re-be.
And the sadness settles in like smoke—opaque, and thick, and cloying.
Samina Najmi teaches multiethnic U.S. literatures at California State University, Fresno. A Hedgebrook alumna, Samina’s creative nonfiction has appeared in various publications, including World Literature Today. Her essay “Trinita” (2021), published in Under the Sun, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. This year, she has taken the plunge back into graduate school, studying creative nonfiction in Fresno State’s MFA program.