The temple burned in silence, memories of the dead
blown across the flat desert. Mourners gathered
one last time as the wind whipped
the frenzied flame, whispered and lifted
vortexes of smoke from its red skin
like the hand of a ghost wrapping
my last words around its fingertips
and sending them, an unspun spiderweb,
through the air until they reached the limit
of the roaring light, thrown into the dancing shadows,
as if they existed, as if the quiet shuddered itself
into the afterlife and through the veil, was still, and rested.
It is hard to remember the future–my dry, chewed lips
tart with the taste of alkaline as I pace across the glass
of a car crashed street full of blurry signs, hours old,
my phone buzzing, full of backwards texts
and a high school buddy’s ringtone, even though
I lost his number in a gambling accident. The beer bottle
in my hand is sharp on my thumb with a cracked neck,
the top twisted off with the chisel of drunken teeth–
but it has been done by those of us
who look back into it, by someone crazy enough to plant
a mirror in the past like their first backyard garden
until, with the limbs of an oak, they grow into the reflection.
It is easier to recall an event when it is over–
the late night kiss you walked home in the rain
under a shared umbrella, the rush of your rollercoaster blood
when hope and fear mixed in the summer sweat
of your long-distance relationship with “I love you,”
the expanding dark of your eyes opening
over the blue-green haze of her flowering iris–
but if you can, you should remember it
as it happens, the recollection of water
(as an image stands from the river)
gathering itself back from her body
with the purpose of gravity rushing headlong
into the ocean of time, dripping from the glow of the sun
on her face, her hands shimmering
from the ripples of her bare feet
as she walks up onto brown rock,
flipping her shades down, smiling, quicksilvered.
And if the future does unfold itself
like a child on a swing, leaning his head back
toward the flying blue cloud of the sky,
into the unseen daylight stars, be gentle with it.
Draw it toward the thunderstorm echo of your heart
and with a whimsical dandelion sigh
send it out on the dragonfly wings of your breath.
Let it go: a bitter mouth will only be fed ashes
like a plate of barbecue wings carved
from the pile of a premature phoenix.
A rabid tongue of fire will lick your wounds
until it gnaws on the unfiltered cigarette of a scar.
Do not hold on to the fingerprint of a hot coal.
Let it go: the time your mother tried to protect you,
ran after you screaming down the driveway
and throwing your phone across the road
while you were joyriding your best friend’s
stepfather mustang to an underground garage party.
Let go. Somewhere in the crystalline fractal
of the past those dead, those tornado, spiraling wisps
of smoke are twisting with us into the future,
reaching the pyramid of their faces up into the space
between us and everything else that exists.
They do not need to be buried, though we will,
like the fading stain of ash on my mother’s blouse
as she flung her father-in-law’s remains
into the rolling mountains of Arkansas.
Memories are not kept the way choices are lost
by thinking about them, but making none.
Only a fool knows that. It is hard to eat smoke,
and when that wall of dust rushes over you,
when you have decided to wash with dirt,
when you see the future cascading from the sky
like a golden portal, liquid with eyes,
then you can remember now, the temple,
as it happens, fiery in its silent stillness, and the rest.