“When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.”
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
He remembered words
Words I had spoken
The words he had wanted to say
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
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.
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.