That spring the sun was rare and you steamed my shirt
and recalled early autumn, when your hands shook with Xanax
as you threw family portraits in the fire— your uncle who claimed
to be the first homo sapien, sprung from the wet dirt of Oregon;
your grandmother who locked herself in a dancehall powder room;
you, three or four, kneeling over the hollow corpse of a crab
on the monochromatic shore of Lake Superior.
We saw withered, leafless trees through November heat
and eyes stung by sweat and ashy leaf smoke, and we were dry,
parched, cracked and hot in the skin between thumb and forefinger.
The fire consumed oak leaves and elm leaves, scraps of fast food
napkins and newspaper, and I watched the front page tragedies
wilt into black wrinkles, and in the heat I felt fine. You saw
how the ground spun so fast but projected a mask of stillness; how,
over time, the wind molded those leafless trees like the hands of a man
bent over an earthen potter’s wheel; and how, with an errant gust,
the flames could topple out to drench the surrounding shrub,
thicket, and bare woodland with sudden and irresistible violence.
That winter it snowed on Fridays and thawed on Sundays.
The snow came to cover the ashes but not erase them—
we found that spot just four months later and rummaged through
the soggy traces of paper and soot. We found the color print of
your mother’s head, lacerated by a burned and jagged edge,
taken three months into your parent’s marriage and five months
before you were born in April, 1978, when the trees blossomed.
You stared into your mother’s face, captured in that disembodied way,
and smiled, remarking how little you resemble her, although
you had her eyes and wore your hair behind the left shoulder
just as she had in that photograph, your chin tilted down and right,
an exact reflection of the girl who birthed you, the darkness ringing your
eyes a tangible manifestation of the other fires she gave you,
and I agreed and led you back home through the blossoming trees.
constant winter, and December was instead the cruelest month, when the
first snow melted and Indian summer burned your cheeks as we walked
through the park, mud climbing our pant legs, leaves plastered on the soles
of our boots, perspiration pooling under our sweaters, and late when I placed
my hands on your bare shoulders, but you shrank under my touch, a gust
blowing you away through the house although the windows were bolted shut.
We awoke that day in spring to low clouds, and as you steamed
my shirt you spoke of burning our things out back in the autumn heat.
My breath was easy, but then my eyes fell to your hands, pale, plain,
picking cuticles one-by-one. You wore the same sweater as that day
and you were as you were then, tossing in the photographs one-by-one.