Old Flames

 

“When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.”

 

I

 

It was easy now

To say the things that had been left unsaid

Sitting at a corner table

Two salads and many years between us

 

If we were unsure before

It didn’t matter now

He: engaged to be married

Me: long since given up

On romantic notions of forever

 

But,

He remembered words

Words I had spoken

The words he had wanted to say

 

His memories

Were mine, too

Seen in reflection

 

He asked if I remembered

A summer’s night

Behind the elementary school

 

We had hidden ourselves

In nighttime shadows –

Warm and dark

 

He saw not the bonfire behind him

But instead, the flames

As they flickered

On the glint and gleam

Of my young skin and hair

 

 

II

 

The kitchen table was salvaged

Sprung from the remains

Of two lives, intertwined

Lived out, to their unraveling.

 

I couldn’t leave it behind

In that faded Victorian

Among dusty stacks of books

Buried beneath forgotten glassware.

 

You fit it in your car

Titling it this way and that

Wrestling its heft and sturdy legs

Closing the hatch with care, not a scratch.

 

You drove it 350 miles

Expertly navigating its passage

Delivering it securely

Introducing it to the four walls of our life.

 

You pulled out the leaves

Securing the polished wood slats into place

Tucking in each chair, gently

Making room for six.

 

I dressed it in fine cotton cloths

Printed blue, white and yellow

The blue to match the walls

The walls we had painted.

 

I adorned it with tiny tea lights

Arranged round platters of bruschetta

Opened ripe bottles of Brunello

Called for company.

 

You wiped its surface clean

Platters stacked, waiting for dust to fall

The cloths folded, in boxes under beds

Every last empty bottle carted away.

 

You caught the gleam of its fading finish

From the corner of your eye

Its leaves tucked in

Like the wings of a wounded bird.

 

I ran my fingers across its once-smooth surface

Blemished with decades of dings

From knife’s edge and fork’s tine

Weary from carrying the weight of our world.

 

You dismantled it

Felling its pieces to the laminate floor

Limb by heavy limb

Bolt by broken bolt.

 

You left its fallen timbers

Piled along the curbside

Unrecognizable by form or function

Bereft of cherish and desire.

 

I smelled the woodsmoke

From a world away

What had once been the center of our orbit

Now fed a stranger’s fire.

 


III

 

We’re collecting firewood.

 

His father said that, with purpose

Every summer, in the few precious months a year they spent together.

 

When he said it,

They would be doing all sorts of things

Father and son things

Things that didn’t require kindling.

 

He tells me about it now

In the same breath he told me that he loved agapanthus

Because they grew in his grandmother’s yard.

 

We lay on the rocky shores of a crystal clear lake

Choosing small stones from the myriad many.

 

Sometimes skipping them over the water’s silent surface

Other times boldly stacking the smoothest stones

On the smoothest parts of each other’s skin.

 

We’re collecting firewood

For a fire that never gets lit.

 

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