Poetry (nonmonetized)

The Downstairs Apartment

I didn’t light the fire, so I’m not putting it out!

Dr. Casey Lawrence
2 min readDec 14, 2021


Popular meme of the “This is fine” dog in a room on fire. Comic consisting of two panels from K.C. Green’s Gunshow #648, “The Pills Are Working,” published January 9th, 2013

Our downstairs neighbours have lit their apartment on fire.
We smelled the smoke months ago
Saw the warning signs, heard the alarms
And did nothing.

We plugged our ears to drown out the screams
Closed our windows to the smell
Locked our doors when they came knocking
Offered no assistance.

We saw this coming, didn’t we?

Didn’t you feel the floor growing hot beneath your feet?
Didn’t your lungs become black with soot?
Haven’t you been picking ash from your hair, saying —
They’ll put it out eventually?

The fire has spread. It knows no borders.
It eats through cultural lines, family ties,
Posts nasty messages on your Facebook wall
And only then do you see the wallpaper curling at the corners.

But you taped them down.
You poured water on the coals of your living room
Put what keepsakes you could in a lockbox,
Pretended like there was no structural damage,

But there is.

The fire downstairs is still burning
While you sit sipping tea and crossing your fingers
That your whole world isn’t about to collapse beneath you.
You listen for the sound of sirens but no one is coming.

There are no lifelines left.

First it came for yours neighbours,
Now it comes for you.
Hateful disease of the body, the mind,
Poisoning the words you breathe in
Echoed in the ones you breathe out.

White walls covered in soot,
Ashes to dust, the important things crumble:
The rights, the freedoms… you can’t leave,
But you don’t want to stay here anymore.

Climate change might be slow
But we are burning ourselves at both ends
Much faster than anyone predicted.
The wick grows shorter, the tempers — shorter —
Flaring white hot, branding labels into our skin.

We move as one, zombies waiting for our next meal
Buzzfed the newsfeed, one more list before bed —
Scrolling consumption of bullshit, they (click)bait the hook
That we all keep jumping for, fishmouths gaping
Trying to ignore the hot coals under our feet,
The smoke in the air,
And the screams
from the downstairs apartment.

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Dr. Casey Lawrence

Canadian author of three LGBT YA novels. PhD from Trinity College Dublin. Check out my lists for stories by genre/type.