23rd Birthday


We’d already started down
the frost-heaved road
to the bottom of the hill
when it struck me that I hadn’t
unplugged the toaster. I backed up into the empty street
& we turned around. Soon, the house fluttered into view,
wispy roadside pines animating the wooden façade, the house sliding by
like an image from a cartoon flipbook.

The place seemed vexed by our presence:
the staccato beeps of the alarm,
the lingering warmth of the vestibule,
the pairs of ski boots and slippers arrayed
in grotesque order. We’d caught reality unfurling itself,
like walking in on someone in a dressing room.
An hour earlier, I’d cooked you some eggs,
& I followed the fading smell to the kitchen. You weren’t there;
I’d told you to stay in the car, or, you just stayed there anyway.

A day later & it would be my birthday.
I remembered how, as a child, I’d often wished
for my parents to forget the date, to feel — in celebration’s stead —
the crush of normalcy, & at the short day’s end, to
touch their foreheads in absolution. I couldn’t buy into
the idea of a birthday; I’d rather play at being a
young buddha.

I walked from the kitchen —
I’d unplugged the toaster, after all —
out to the car, where you were. Wordlessly, we drove away.
Who could bear to stay in that
death? I’d rather we drove there ourselves, sometimes talking,
sometimes not, you holding my hand, both of us determined
not to sit in mourning for a moment
that didn’t want us to go,
that wants us to come back.

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