Cinder Silhouette

Katrina Kaye

I was the weak one.
Prone to suggestion.
Too eager to please to ever say no.
You took the hit, then passed it to me,
mouth to mouth,
feeding me like a baby bird,
just one of our many firsts.
We were sisters then.

When the heat rippled the air,
when the smoke first slithered up walls
and clung to ceilings,
I held your hand,
sang along to your tune,
in this together.

But somewhere along the way,
your inhalation outpaced my own.
The flame we waved our hands over
didn’t burn me,
the only ash on my clothes
from your body,
the only lingering smell of smoke,
the one you dragged in from the night.
Someone threw kerosene on your flame
and you burst,
as I dwindled.

I couldn’t stifle the blaze before it spread.
My hand on your arm
couldn’t confine combustion.
It wasn’t my pride that was hurt
the day you left me on the side of the road,
so crazed by the heat you mistook concern
for accusation.
I just didn’t understand how my touch,
ice on fevered flesh,
made you flinch and flee.

Yet somehow I delude myself to think,
I can pull unconscious bodies from burning buildings.
This misconceived strength
to throw those who can’t stand for themselves
over my shoulder and carry them
free from smoke, from fire.

So I wait, knowing,
as clear as spark to skin,
at some point,
you’ll stop basking in flame.
At some point,
your lungs will fill with smoke
and your limbs will turn limp.
At some point,
I can drag your unresisting body free.

I can save you.

Will I recognize your silhouette
aglow with smoldering cinders?
Will I know your freckled
skin strapped upon bare back
or will you be scorched bone,
empty sockets, hollow?
When I touch you,
will your skin fleck
and fly under my hand?

I can tend burns. take in the broken.
Reshape you into the doll you used to be.
But I cannot extinguish your pain,
I can only bandage blistered skin.

And when you break free from my arms,
charge back through fiery doors,
so eager to be warm again,
I won’t be able to mold you back together.
You will disintegrate under my touch.

You are so far from my grasp
I can’t stop your body from flaking away.
Crisp ash strewn by the breeze.

But if it happens
your body goes limp,
your breath shallows
and you need salvation,
fresh air,
I will give you all that is in my lungs,
mouth to mouth,
to make you whole again.

“Cinder Silhouette” is previously published in They Don’t Make Memories Like That Anymore (2011).

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