FIRE ON THE ATCHAFALAYA

Fingers of fog close into fist,
a blanket woven from the mist.
Shifting shapes in white abound.
tarry not, push tow to ground.

Be not enticed, precaution to toss
bravery to prove, to please the boss.
Too great is the risk to life and limb
caused by vainglory, or a moment’s whim.

Oh, I do bore thee, your petulance shows.
On then, to my tale, ere restlessness grows.
Pay heed now, how a man’s unearned pride
created great danger, a near-fatal ride.

Three decades have passed, a new century’s turned,
since the river surrounding the Mary Bourg burned
Even now, though dimmer of sight, limbs sore and aging,
young still is the smoke, the flame’s loud raging

The river ran swift, by spring snow-melt fed.
Mate and new deckhand, fresh risen from bed
were told by the captain over midnight brew
“Just relax, clean the galley, whatever have you.”

“Your license is fresh, your experience wanting.
Son, even I find this fast water daunting.
Boiling, swift currents, hard-working eddies,
for a river so swollen, you aren’t yet ready.”

The mate was piqued by this perceived slight,
like a bone he worried it half the night.
Though new to the river, I saw what was coming
long before he said, “get the engines running.”

While untying the tow, I prayed that the captain
Would get up and stop us, but it didnt happen.
As Tiny slept on, the tow topped around.
Out into the current, to our fate we were bound.

My worries grew distant, with two bends behind us
My thoughts turned instead to the menu for breakfast
I brought Rick a pastry, as the moonlight was fading.
Around the next point, the Melville Bridge stood waiting

When we radioed ahead, the bridge-tender was aware
that to this area we were new, a thing not at all rare.
But the man mistook us for being not southhbound, but north,
And he misspoke and prepared us for a set to the port.

Thus we were almost sideways as we passed ‘neath the span
and our barge full of naptha struck, opened up like a can
I remember the next moment, still clear as a bell
a spark-induced fire did sprout, a scene out of Hell.

A hundred feet high the flames reached in an instant
The inferno fast covered the bridge-tender’s shack,
and I prayed for his soul as I woke up the captain.
He would have been fried, had the current been slack.

By flames we were surrounded; it was a seaman’s nightmare.
To the lifeboat, men! Useless to fight a flame this large.
But our chances were dashed, the lifeboat was not there.
They had fished last night; and pulled the skiff on the barge.

The heat seemed to chase us, the smoke stung our eyes.
No way out, no where to run, no hope. No, no hope.
I thought to myself , “Nice knowing you guys”.
But having no choice, we did frantically cope.

Danny grabbed one extinguisher, I grabbed another;
I steadied my hand, and the flames we did smother
The captain took the wheel, Rick took an axe
and parted the wires, and from the fire we backed.

The flames reached the shore, and caught trees afire.
It seemed that we had escaped from our own funeral pyre
The barge still belched flame, the boat still smoked
From his first Salem in years, Tiny took a huge toke.

The rest was mundane, the woods too wet to stay burning
The firemen arrived on a barge later that morning.
By late afternoon the situation was under control,
The barge still leaked, but the product stayed cold.

I meet Tiny now on the one, Rick’s in the bluewater trade.
Tiny said Danny’s drinking is what sealed his fate.
I hope the rest of us learn from the tale told here.
When experience speaks,  don’t turn a deaf ear.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Reblogged this on The Village Wordsmithy and commented:

    One of my first literary efforts. The language is stilted, but the story is true.

    Reply

  2. A riveting read; and now it’s tempting to Google ‘tug-boat/barge maneuvering skills’
    But something tells me that ‘hands-on’ is the only real teacher.

    Reply

    • These were the most frightening moments of my life. Well, there was the time I fell head over heels in a Love Bug (several times, we hit a sand dune at 45 mph, and rolled many times), but that was over before it registered on the fearometer. I’ve been told that I haven’t been right since, my wife says that’s normal.

      Reply

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