In the days after you set yourself on fire
and before your death I didn’t know what tense
to use when speaking of you. My hands
reached out, clawing at the skin
of disaster. It was blistered with tears.
I had no telling marks upon my face,
only dreams in which I faced
the creosote. The thoughts of fire
hot enough to make your tears
evaporate. Your fingers, tense,
striking the sudden match. The skin
of your knuckles white with decision. Your hands.
And on the ash-smeared door your hand-
writing, slightly smudged. An angry face
you sketched there seems too real. It skins
you down to ink, and blood, and fire.
Something simple in the present tense.
A thing so plain and evident it tears
me up inside. I could have heard the tears
if I had cupped my hand
and listened. But it was too intense
those nights you’d run into my room, your face
rumpled with sadness and a fire
smouldering behind your eyes, beneath your skin.
I thought you were thin-skin-
ned. I see now through a blurry lens of tears,
but even blinking hard won’t quench this fire.
Your skin must have been thick to hand-
le flames, to hold them near your face.
But cautery had made it tense.
It could not hold together tenses.
Past and present sear the skin,
engraving something final on your face.
Burns were nothing. You were scarred with tears.
And me, now, with reality: your untouched cupboard, hand-
les of ceramic mugs baked in a kiln’s fire
awaiting your grip. Their lack of tears is without time or tense.
And mine just so: a hand searching for skin
inside the fire, or a flickering smile across your face.


One thought on “Extinguished.

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