The fire needs to be lit
in the chill, late summer night.
When I come back to the room hundreds
of tiny slivers cling to my palm
from holding the wrong kind of bark.
One at a time I pull them out,
but an hour later something’s
still bothering me. I rub
the arch of skin between my thumb
and forefinger as if craving
the sting of this last, invisible
splinter, the sudden imposition
of experience, which cannot be
argued with or wished out of existence.
Is this wisdom, stuck in the skin,
nagging, persistent, annoying,
a cold the fire can’t chase away?
I think of walking home that night
in the rain, the flashlight’s beam
a weak circle of yellow on the soaked dirt,
my shirt stuck to my back and your
last words in my ears. It took
this long for me to learn what you meant.
Our bodies are hard masters. For them we
sweat and sleep, the betrayals of pain
or illness repaid with the pleasure
of skin on skin, the rich taste of red wine
on the back of the tongue. Finally
I turn my hand to the right
angle of the light and find it,
silhouetted there. Knowing
the sweetness is in the release, I wait
another moment, then grasp between
fingernails and slowly pull it free.
(kz 1993) (previously appeared in The Community College Moment)