It started when I arrived too early.
I circled the block, muttering song lyrics.
We all walked in together,
hugged hello, how are you,
good to see you.
“You remember your cousin,”
he prompted his son.
“No,” his son said, and I thought
but smiled anyway.
My choice of pinot noir
reflected itself on the mirror table,
a doubled threat to the cream carpet.
The children were either
too young or too old
or not children at all.
I burned my tongue on hot soup,
bit my tongue on sharp words.
I was surprised to find
she smelled faintly of cigarettes,
or maybe I was just remembering it.
They both assumed I had
plans to keep, mountains to climb,
but I was only tired of repeating
that nothing is new.
He walked me to the door
so he could get fresh air
and warn me that the road was dark
and it was raining.
It ended when I left too early.
I circled my own block, muttering goodbye.
Sometimes, it’s wisps.
Almost-invisible curved lines
rising when hot hits cold,
visible only when the light hits it right.
Purposeful and temporary.
I watch them,
drawing out the precious seconds.
Sometimes, it’s a stream.
Steady from the bright-orange glow,
leaving a perfectly-visible
hanging cloud of fragrance
in the living room.
Intentional and soothing.
I play with it,
sitting stock still to see it shoot
straight up into the air,
or waving it to disperse it
throughout the small space.
Sometimes, it’s a cloud.
Periodic from the blinking end
of several cylinders,
visible as a cross-section
of blackened lung.
Painful and permanent.
I watched them play games with it,
in and out, circles inside circles,
stealing time while no one was looking.
Always, it’s smoke —
strong and fleeting,
pleasant and putrid,
filling my eyes with water
I’ll spill for something or other.
She picks her favorites
(two, at most)
Threadbare here, worn there,
but each a traveling, warm embrace,
consciously needed or not.
They’re perfectly right
when she dons them in the early morning,
but by sundown,
she’s rolling up her sleeves
every few minutes,
and her shoulders are exposed
fractions of an inch at a time,
reminding her of her mother’s teal tank top
peeking through the ripped collar
of her eighties off-shoulder black sweatshirt.
They smell like coffee, Old Spice, and Lovely.
They feel like curling up with a good novel
late on a Sunday morning.
They look like home.
The group of us talked about a lot of things —
about what yellow dresses symbolized,
these canary-adorned, faceless women,
the ones I still suspect in social gatherings.
We discussed what the green light
at the end of the dock really looks like
with unclouded vision,
feels like with unshrouded heart.
We laughed first, then cried
when 124 was spiteful,
full of baby’s venom.
In the hallway after the bell tolled,
he asked us,
“Where are you going?
Where have you been?”
and we talked a lot about how
You Can’t Take It With You.
And in the end, we felt so strongly
that the whole lot of us —
fifteen or twenty inspired youths —
stood on our desks, declaring to him
“O Captain, my Captain!”