by Samantha Malay
published in Burningword Literary Journal, issue 84, October 2017
reprinted in Heirlock Magazine, issue 2 ‘Pride,’ December 2019
In summer we walked through the woods,
picking wild strawberries and naming the trails as our own.
The remains of a homestead lay half-buried, roof joists rotting around rusty cans,
books frail and dusty as moth wings. Grass seeds clung to our clothes.
Can you stop time so we can stay together?
In town, he drove with his arm across the front seat
to keep us from hitting the dashboard at intersections.
Leave your coat on when we get there.
He knew these people before he was married. Sad to see us, they asked us to stay.
But by then we’d seen dead animals and fires at the edge of the garbage dump,
smoke lingering in the orange peels and eggshells, cigarette butts and toys.
We’d heard arguments through the floorboards, moved into houses with dirty sinks
and medicine abandoned behind the bathroom mirror.
We’d departed together, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the school year,
to sleep in campgrounds and fields.
We’d listened to the snow muffle our voices as it lit the night sky,
tree boughs soft and heavy and quiet.
We felt the inward pull of family,
like underwater branches against our legs in the lake.
Will you leave us some clues before you go?
We need to know fool’s gold from the real thing,
the names of the people who broke your nose,
and should you kiss the girl on your right when you see a car with one light?