Tuesday, November 29, 2022

HOPE HALL: First Episode - Oklahoma Sanitarium Company -- Fire: April 13, 1918

13-year-old Julieta Klehrmorgan

Moved to Norman, Oklahoma

Dad is an engineer, mom a geologist –

both love Julieta, but are chronically worried and self-absorbed

Julieta likes to explore

Mysterious traffic circle at the end of Main Street

Twirl  twirl

take the second outlet

Follow the road, weeks pushing up from cracked asphalt

The block-long three-story red brick Prairie Corinthian

An abandoned psychiatric hospital, an “asylum”

Boarded up, a time capsule shivering

with its own knowledge -

Julieta peers into windows, sees the

No Trespassing Sign on door…

but the door opens,

a boy around 12 waves to her to come in.

Slender, wearing khaki pants,

sky blue button-down shirt

(or chambray)?, leather shoes

Dark, straight hair, round face –

Walks through the door … slips down stairs –

now in new dimension

new wood building, smells like oil

She touches the wood – it feels like a candle

Windows have metal bars

Through the window, she sees tall, uncut prairie grass,

cedar trees, and a large pond

A couple of people are on horseback

An apple orchard is in bloom

In a room, boys are seated around a table

Sorting colored blocks to put in small boxes

They seem to be wooden toys of some kind

The boys are sorting, grouping

Some are able to move smoothly

Others have limited range of motion

One is making grunting noises

Another, round face, lashless eyes,

a perfect “O” for a mouth

Partial to the red blocks

A small blonde boy keeps standing up on his chair

Another, pensive, hunched-over,

sorting, sorting, sorting

Julieta picks up a block

Wonders, does it, too, feels like a candle?

She thinks “no” –

Just a regular block of wood, sanded smooth

Painted even smoother…

Through the window, the sun is starting to set…



Evening prayers. Pray for today

Pray for the fading memory of a mother’s embrace

Pray for roommates sleeping in iron cots, boys

sleeping under identical wool blankets

soft, crisp white sheets

4 am, Saturday, April 13, 1918

The boy gestures to Julieta,

Look through the barred third-floor window

Thunder growls in the distance

Flash of lightning, crack and rattle of thunderclap

Old, twisted, half-dead cedar tree bursts

Showers of sparks and crackling flames

Gust front in a savage Derecho

Bends the limbs, strips the blossoms from the tree

Fans the sparks like bellows into a small flame

On a dark, cold night

Flames tear through the dry pampas grass

Eating their way to the dormitory building

The walls feel like candles

The floor sealed in wax

Screaming, shouting, rattling of keys

Windows open, but bars built into the frame

Doctors, nurses, night guards screaming, shouting

Boys run down the only corridor

To the only stairwell

Paraffin snapping, sparking, crackling

Yellow-orange unstoppable passion

L.T. Hawes running through flames

Unlocking doors, hoping against hope, and

The guard shielding two little boys with his body

One boy clasping a block from the day before

The ones able to talk sobbing for their mothers

The deaf-mute wide-eyed

The Downs Syndrome boys suffocating while they slept

Another guard with blanket over hands on fire-hot bars

Trying to worry them out of the wood frame

But then the smoke

Acrid wool, cotton, paraffin and oak

Clouds inside

Clouds outside

The deadly Derecho with its drenching rain

Put out the fire with water

From the same anvil clouds that hammered

and sparked the cedar with a jagged streak of lightning

Days later after paper telegrams and letters delivered

Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters

Mute with guilt and grief: silent, heaving shoulders

Regretting believing Dr. Griffin’s promises – a brand new treatment

For their child who could not mentally advance,

Or the ones who would not speak, would not look in the eye

Long, protracted tantrums, hour after hour

Riding on their wooden rocking horse

Or simply rocking, rocking, rocking back and forth

Could they have been helped after all at home?

More prayers? More pleading? More bargaining with God?



But by day the headlines:

“Three paraffin-soaked wooden fire traps kill little boys!” 

No more words needed

Julieta looks up

She is seated on an old park bench

North of the red brick Corinthian buildings

Clipped grass, concrete silhouettes of building foundations

The air smells like wet dirt and impending rain

Cardinals and robins chirping

The boy is back


“What is your name?”


November 27, 2022


No comments: