The Ballad of Ladder Five

By James Roland Hogue

©2003 James R. Hogue
Illustrations by Rick Powell

On the tenth of September they passed the brew,
They passed the cards and smokes.
“Deuces to open,” he barked to the crew,
And he dealt the cards and the jokes.

“What d’ya know’s got four legs and an arm?”
“I dunno what?” “A pit bull,” he laughed.
“What chills beer, toasts bread, and lays eggs on a farm?”
“Close the door, will ya Phil? There’s a draft.”

And then the lieutenant waltzed in through the door.
“Kindly deal me in, girls, if you please.”
He hung up his coat and he strode ‘cross the floor.
“How you been, number one, how’s the squeeze?”

“Alright, Phil, how’s yours?” “She’s alright ‘bout the same.”
“Glad to hear it.” “Here, Joe, have a beer.”
“Yea I will. Thank you, Pete. What’s up, Jack? What’s the game?”
“Five card draw, nothing wild. Put it here.”

They finished the hand and they dealt Joe his due,
And they settled in for the night.
Mike repeated the riddle that nobody knew,
Least nobody’d got it right.

“Lays eggs on a farm, makes toast, chills beer.”
“Jacks open.” “I’ve got it,” said Pat,
“A chicken, a toaster, a frig.” “Here Here!”
Said Joe, “I’ll drink to that.”

The men played on till they saw the sun
And heard the morning knell,
But the sleep they wanted was overrun
By a summons into hell.

Now a job’s a job and a man’s a man
And a hero’s just the same.
So it is with Patrick H. McGahan
And for too many more to name.

The firefighters rushed to the blazing crime
Impelled by guts and heart
To rescue the victims and slug through the grime,
But the buildings fell apart.

The towers exploded and trembled and dropped
And shook the city’s core,
While a rolling wave of concrete stopped
The firemen evermore.

And still more sawed and fought and clawed
Through the crumbling twisted pyre;
They climbed and dug and heaved and gnawed
And battled through the fire.

Still hundreds cried out from the gloom
And hundreds more replied,
And hundreds charged into the tomb
Where hundreds fought and died.

And when the deadly work was done,
Barbarity addressed,
Three forty three had lost and won
And staggered to their rest.

Later the comrades of the men
Who’d battled the blazing towers
Whispered a faltering amen
Among the funeral flowers.

With them knelt ten thousand more
Who prayed in awe and sorrow
For the losses they too bore
Of tomorrow and tomorrow.

Towers to the sun turned igneous,
Fire and vapor and ash,
Some dare call it “treasonous,”
Others merely “rash.”

But truth out of chaos and festering lies
Will make itself a world.
The rotten, when shaken, crumbles and dies,
Leaving liberty unfurled.

Great was the indisputable fact
(And to that fact they clung)
Buried by years of habit and tact,
They wrenched it from the dung.

They wrenched it from the senators,
They wrenched it from the press,
From the judges and the governors
And the rest of the noblesse.

They wrenched it from the corpulent
The eminent and the great,
They wrenched it from the insolent,
They wrenched it from the state.

They wrenched it from the excrement
On the oval office floor,
The part time White House resident,
The unelected whore.

They held it high for all to see
Like a sword on glory’s field,
They waved our flag of liberty
And justice unconcealed.

To all fourteen thousand they sent out alarms,
To Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens ,
Staten Island , the Bronx : all brothers in arms,
And they started their mighty machines.

Ladder, Engine and Rescue received the brief,
Battalion and Group and Division,
Chaplain and pumper and driver and chief
Prepared for the fatal incision.

Soon the rumbling battalions of fire engines forming
A hundred thousand strong
Entered the capitol, the red ranks storming,
To cries from a fiery throng.

Ladder Five was the first. It crashed through the gate
And was followed by fifty more:
Daggers aimed at the White House to decapitate
The regime, and to settle the score.

From the ladders extended arose such a clatter
It deafened the dwellers inside.
They sprang from their seats to see what was the matter,
But, oh, ‘twas a vengeful tide.

It poured in the windows, it flooded the doors
And washed over the rooftops besides;
It crashed through the portico onto the floors
And lifted the open mouthed guides.

It broke through the west wing by God above blest wing,
The wing where the president shivered.
It was now the arrest wing by firemen possessed wing,
The wing where the writ was delivered.

Came the liberal senators all in a row,
“It’s the firemen! Let’s give ‘em a cheer!”
“You can save your breath princes. Book ‘em, Joe.
They’re as guilty as anyone here.”

“We the rabble arrest you in the name of the law,
You in your bucket of slime,
Your protection’s expired; stick that in your craw.
You’re done. You’re outta time.”

Fourteen thousand firefighters lined up to draw lots
With captains and chiefs and lieutenants,
For the chance to draw one of the five hundred slots
To cull some of Washington ‘s tenants.

The first of the winners was Patrick McGahan
From Ladder Number Five,
Such a thunderous cheer there went up for the man,
For the hero who came back alive.

They chose four hundred and ninety nine more,
Fell executioners all:
Headsmen who lusted to even the score
And to see the Empire fall.

They sharpened their axes to cut off the heads
Of the heirs of the brightest and best,
Who had sent us to rescue the gooks from the reds
In a ballad of East and West.

Judges and generals were on the list
With nodding politicians,
And media whores who’d never be missed
With cabinet patricians.

Now Patrick now William now Dennis now Jim
Now Teddy now Hillary and Dick,
On Johnny on Bernie on Nancy on Tim
On Joseph on Thomas and Nick.

“You’ll be tried with the others. How do you plead?
Did they hold a gun to your head?
Were you following orders? Did you watch us bleed?
Or were you just misled?”

The trials are over. The verdicts are in.
The Reckoning is nigh.
The firemen wait in tumult and din
To deliver a fatal reply

To the traitors carried in ghostly carts
Who weep and pray and yield.
“Let the poison flow from their worthless hearts
Through the ruts in a muddy field.”

The first of five hundred is dragged from the dock
To say his last farewell.
“Meet Patrick McGahan. Put your head on the block,
And then you can go to hell.”

McGahan steps up in his spit-shined shoes
And places his axe on the stand.
He takes up a stance in his best dress blues
And he grins as he spits on his hand,

Saying, “Prisoner, come forth and meet your doom,
The bell begins to toll.
Here is the block, and there’s your tomb.
Lord have mercy on your soul.”

He lifts his axe and he swings it back
And then he drives it through.
It lands with a frightening echoing crack.
McGahan has his due.

One by one each rolling head
Drops in a gruesome sac.
One by one are the tumbrels led
Along the deathly track.

Of advisors there are four,
Of diplomats eleven,
Of judges are there twenty more,
Of generals there are seven.

Of chaplains there is only one,
Of senators three score,
Of corporate heads (forgive the pun)
We chop off sixty four.

The media loses twenty two,
The Bureau drops a straight.
The spooks are missing quite a few,
The inner circle, eight.

Two hundred and eighty six that leaves,
Assorted strains of fungus . . .
Bagmen, beggarmen, liars and thieves,
Deduct them from the congress.

Now the deeds are almost done,
The grass is a bloody brown.
Bound in the tumbrel bides but one
In a world turned upside down.

Up steps the last fireman who barks, “Look alive!
Fetch me one Patrick McGahan!
This one’s for you Pat and Ladder Five.
Finish it where you began.”

Now from the gladdened multitude
Goes up a joyous yell,
A cheer of hope and gratitude
That bounds across the dell.

It strikes upon the hillside and
Rebounds across the land,
For ‘tis Patrick H. McGahan
Advancing to the stand.

McGahan, he pierces the beady eyed rat
With a stare that is ardent and cold.
He puts down his axe and he says, “Fancy that,
A gallon of liquid gold.”

He opens the can of the precious stuff.
On the prisoner’s head it pours,
“Y’all say ‘when’ when you git enough.
You wanted it. It’s yours.”

McGahan strikes a match and watches the flame,
“I’ll tell you a thing or two:
Empire is a risky game.
Or so it is for you.

But I’ll blow out the match because it is
A fireman that I am.
The fate of the others shall be his,
But first I’ll have a dram

For Jack and Pete and Phil and Joe
And all of our fallen friends,
To all the soldiers friend and foe
And thus our story ends.”

With a strong right arm he throws a shot
Of Irish down the hatch,
Then he grabs his axe to dispatch the rot.
The head he doth detach.

Now a job’s a job and a man’s a man
And a hero’s just the same.
So it is for Patrick H. McGahan
And for too many more to name.