Stop and Listen to the Fire

I had heard of it in passing. A Black boy killed. An act of retribution: a Jewish man killed. New York. Crown Heights: yes, the crown, yes, the height of enmity between the races. I paid little heed, regarding it simply as another conflagration in the cauldron of American society where race, in all its surliness, burns the hottest in the belly of the pot, DuBois was right--the problem of the color line indeed.

What need had I of attending to this incident of the many in these "yet to be united states," a world where reports of racial unrest come and go in bewildering profusion, numbing the senses, hobbling the synapses that strive to process such tales of anger and pain. Please not another death to mourn, not another riot to lament. Hearing it in passing would have to do.

It was a name I had heard in passing--Anna something. She ran a one-woman show. A woman with a surfeit of hats: actor, writer, performance artist. "Fires in the Mirror."

Bits of praise and verbal applause, Riveting, powerful, a tour de force, something of which to take note. In New York this summer, how was the culturally conscious student to discriminate amongst the multitude of "must sees" and "should not misses" that line the entertainment pages of magazines and fill the Broadway sky lights?

But wasn't she Black? Wasn't she a woman? Wasn't it about race? I really should see it.


That show is in Cambridge now. The one you'd heard about in passing. By that woman whose name you couldn't remember. She's Black; its about race. "Fires in the Mirror." I really should go.

"Fires in the Mirror." Anna. There she was; then there she wasn't. A man, now a woman. A Jewish mother, a Black child. Not a seam between them.

There is was. Crown Heights in all its tragic display, the victims and the victimizers, but who was which (hardly a seam between them)? The thing I had heard about in passing was now alive, breathing, walking the stage, evolving--with each new face, into the terrible truth at its center. A dramatic gesture toward immortality, a dramatist's gesture toward immortality. An immortality of the pain and the grief. An immortality of the voices, the torn and urgent voices that vie in boundless cacophony. Voices to which the rest of us shut our ears to hear of only in passing.

Culled from interviews, recreated verbatim, "Fires in the Mirror" is a desperate plea to the dying but precious art of listening. Of listening with both one's eyes and ears, when the scales have fallen away, when the drum beats intently within.

The characters shored up by their conviction that their story is in some way worth the hearing and thus in some way worth the telling, "Fires in the Mirror" is a concentration of intimacies so intense the effect is almost unbearable, in the way high art must be.

The plea that pulses behind the multitude of voices is one that urges us against the way we avert our eyes and close our ears. It urges us to abandon the opaque tunnels down which we race so blindly, so deafly. It urges us against the coward's impulse to step lightly around the tough issues and only ask the polite questions, while stifling those which clamor in mute repression for voice. It urges us against our penchant to accept the soundbite without listening to the sound. It urges us to turn the pointing finger inward and the embracing arm outward. It urges us to be watchful, to be waitful, to listen and to learn, to give some time to "pause" in a world that covets "passing."