Untitled was the first poem I’d written.
Its lines were crooked and without symmetry, words pressed tight against the page, unable to breathe.
You could follow the dark shadows of the graphite and lead, trace the awkward, childish pause where I left a comma instead of a period. Where I abandoned the line, everything open, the vulnerable arm of a little “e” reaching out over the emptiness of the page below.
It was a poem I’d written for my mother.
It was a poem I’d written countless times, but water ruined the words. Water and hopes and questions that couldn’t be helped.
One by one, the versions were torn and burned, ashes to ashes; dust to dust.
My counselor said it would be cathartic, that the act of handwriting the unyielding thoughts in my mind might help me to forgive or forget.
I watched the little “e” glow like the cherry of a cigarette, bright at first. It didn’t last and as soon as it burst into life, thick puffs of white smoke snuffed it out. The scent of burning paper was acrid, welcome.
It soaked into the fabric of my clothes, my hair, my skin. It reminded me of Holiday Acres and a sea of trees; of tobacco, bobby pins, and pine sap that glued itself to bare knuckles.
I was enveloped in an overwhelming desire to reminiscence, to tell the counselor of all the things I missed: the loose floor boards that always creaked at night, even with no one else around. The sharp, uneven teeth of a brush that patiently worked knots from my hair. Though the ritual hurt, my skull ached for it. I longed for the scent of biscuits & gravy and listened in the morning for the loud shout, the wake-up warning. It never came and my ears yearned for it.
I never said anything as the poem steadily burned, leaving behind the pillow-soft ashes. They oddly resembled cremated remains and I felt this was poetic. Death, after all, possessed many forms. I gathered the ashes, not caring if they painted me in a thin layer of gray or stained my knees. I wanted to touch them, to feel their presence, to know why or how or who. I imagined the little “e” was in there somewhere, lost – not destroyed.
I felt the charcoal ash cake beneath my fingernails. I felt it in my throat, my lungs, my eyes.
Water ruined everything. It left streaks of ash and memory across my face, imbued the flesh of my body with words I couldn’t express, capture, decode.
I’d written an imperfect poem, lines as crooked as my memory, edges as abrupt as a child self, and like my heart, it was without symmetry.