Early Morning Embers

Your cigarette glowed like the last dying star
of some frigid galaxy as you stood exhaling fog
and smoke before dawn. When summer came

you would sit on your step and smoke and yell
on the phone with your mother in your Long Island
accent. That was when we shared a backyard.

At first I planted three magnolias—hoping you
wouldn’t read between the lines. Magnolias are
patient bushes, though, and you needed nicotine.

So I tried a wooden panel fence, asking for your
permission this time: Sure, a little privacy can’t
hurt. In the morning, I found all three magnolias

flattened under the fence, which had blown over
in the night. I put it up again. More deliberately.
And once I was reading while you were smoking

on the step. Somehow you saw me—you saw me
and tossed a bag of fresh baked cookies over
the fence, as if to heap burning coals on my head,

as if you knew. We had to stand ten feet apart so
you could see my face when I thanked you, ashamed.
It was winter again by the time I realized you were

gone. No more early morning embers, no coughing
or yelling or baked goods. Just a useless fence and
three lopsided magnolias shivering in the snow.


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