Love in the Time of Fire

To enter we must write the address of a house that no longer exists
‘You have 20 minutes and you can take 10 books’
On your marks get set go
We scan the shelves with half glazed eyes
Fellow fire refugees and friends are my comfort
And my competition
As we hunter gather together again
To refill the abyss of all we have lost.
We are achingly grateful
For all we have been gifted
Humbled to have our very own free bookstore
But where to begin?
If you could only take 10 books to a desert island
What books would they be?
If you could fill your home with just 10 books
What books would they be?
I try to remain practical, cookbooks and plant books
And reference books you refer to again and again.
Are novels regarded as single-use items
Like the exiled plastic straw?
But when I finally venture towards the novels,
Titles and authors that sat so comfortably on my now burnt shelves,
Swim into view
And a tear slides from my eye
These were my people, my mentors, my guides
Standing guard on the bookshelf
Guardians of my mind
DH Lawrence and Dickens and Emily Bronte
You spoke to me and through me and touched me
And changed me
Your presence on my shelves was an extension of my self
A nest of words, a web of wisdom to hold and nourish my children
Words that formed me, now absorbed through their pores
By osmosis
Later they could have gleaned the shelves
For titles that drew them and books that spoke to them.
But that is all gone.
Now I find myself hunter gathering for new guardians of the bookshelves
And they will never be what they were
There is no replay on my history
To have again what I had collected and inherited
Over all my years on Earth.
Then a familiar book cover catches my eye
And stilts my reverie.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of my favourite storytellers and word weavers
For his ability to entwine magic and reality so seamlessly
And open new windows in his readers’ minds.
Love in the Time of Cholera
One of my most loved books
But I read the title from memory
The book is old,
And the title has been rubbed off from years of use
I clutch it to me
To take it to a home that still needs to be built
To find its place on a bookshelf that exists only in my mind
That one day my children,
After having read the words visible on the bookshelf
Until they become a song they know in their head
Will be enticed to open this one.
Or not.
Either way I have a chance to give this book in my hands a new title
Seeing it no longer has one.
Love in the Time of Fire
Because in the end everything can burn,
Except love.

Rhian Berning,  August 2017