Fire Has No Voice / by Bryce Hidysmith

Voice of Fire - Barnett Newman

Voice of Fire - Barnett Newman

<I believe that soundtracks & epigraphs are important.>

I woke up two mornings ago to news of a fire at a party in Oakland.  I'd considered going. I'd marked myself as "interested" on Facebook and forgotten about it. The dead were counted, I was marked among them. I'd slept in, my phone was dead, I was out of communication. I got all sorts of messages asking if I was alive. I confirmed my pulse and shuffled to a fika. Over the day, I found a death toll of nine, which increased throughout the next 48 hours. At some point people started talking about the dead in the past tense. 

An old friend died in that fire. Her name was Cash Askew. We went to middle school together for a few years before I was thrown out. We both wrote in runes and enjoyed synthesizers, and bonded mostly over shared aesthetic sensibilities. We were never very close. I was always terribly intimidated by her. She was always a few steps ahead.  She found her path early, as the sort of musician photographed in black and white, stark contrast and detached, stoic expression. I have a strong memory of sitting on her living room floor in 2010 or so, asking what the music playing was. She smiled, and told me it was her own composition. I'd hear about her from time to time, exchange a few words and smiles at gatherings. I was happy to know she was a force in this city of our birth. I was watching her gain skill and strength. I was excited for her future, and appreciative of the shared present. 

The last time I saw her was at a noise show I attended right before running away to Chile. She'd rigged up her equipment so that a piece of reel to reel tape was moving around a speaker pylon. It sounded like weather after time itself was over. A few monoliths, a discolored sky, nothing beside remains. I was sitting on the ground cross legged, listening to a landscape with no horizon and no vantage point. I want to hold that memory in my head for as long as I can. I have no notion how I could record one of her performances; the closest thing that I could think of would be the creation of an automated room programmed to go through her motions. The technosolutionist in me wakes up in moments like this, but that is just a way of numbing myself to the simple awfulness of loss. 

There were others I knew. None of them as well as Cash. None who I really shared history with. They were simply part of the same world as me, playing parts in parallel stories. One of them, Kiyomi Tanouye, participated in an ARG that had influenced me a great deal as a teenager. I'd always wanted to get to know her, though I'd only ever heard her alias from the game until the day after the fire. Another I'd encountered in online dating. A few others were just faces, perhaps I'd been an unspeaking extra in their lives. Whole worlds burned in the fire, both those of memory, and those never to be built according to the visions of the now-dead. 

Since the beginning of this year, it's felt as though the world is slipping away, piece by piece, person by person. Part of me takes a perverse comfort in solipsism. I hope that this is all some test, some message, a Book of Job or a Kobayashi Maru, where there is some kind of outside force, asking me to not give into despair in light of devastation to prove that I wouldn't give in, even if there was no other sensible option. It's comforting, if deeply self-centered, to hope that the suffering means something: a metaphor for a third party. 

Then I come to my senses. Fire has no voice. Entropy has no signal: only noise cutting sense and memory to ribbons. When we are burned we mourn and engrave the names and stories of those we have lost on whatever material is available. Then we craft worlds less combustable. I am awake again this morning. The last two were numb, spending time in interstitials of Buddhist church and sleeping in. Today I will use what light I have to work.