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 Sarah Certa

All the Birthday Candles

December 10th is Emily Dickinson’s birthday
and also mine. I tell people this
as if it means something. As if sharing a birthday
makes us friends, allies
across time, like two leaves grown on the same tree
just over a century apart, or gate posts
on either side of a field that could be a cemetery
if all the things in it seemed more dead, if their echoes
weren’t so loud. I keep hearing
the scrape of the iceberg slicing open
the steel belly of the Titanic, the cries
of children drowning. I think of all the bullets
people have shot at each other
and themselves, and my temples
ache like that time I had a seizure and felt like someone
was banging my head against the bars of a cage underwater, the closest
to someone trying to kill me
I’ve ever felt. Sometimes my ears ring
and I think it’s the vibrations of the atomic
bomb and all the wars
I’m too sensitive to talk about, though someone keeps
projecting war films on the back wall
of my brain, stained sepia clips
of legless soldiers in trenches in France, pyramids
of dead bodies, Anne Frank’s toothy grin, and smokestacks
that make my nose burn so hard I’m afraid if I sneeze I’ll cover
this table in ashes, which will look and feel and smell
no different than my own ashes
some day. God I feel like an asshole
for being able to choose whether or not
I want my body burned when I die, for choosing
not to finish my lunch today
because I want to be
a little thinner. Vietnam is a rusty fork
twisting my brain like spaghetti, like the intestines
of a soldier shot in the stomach. Headlines say weekend violence
in southern Afghanistan rose the U.S. death toll
to over 2,000 this year, so I write this down
because I don’t know what else to do. It’s early October
and Jeff has been dead for half a year. I hate
that in all my thoughts about him
he is floating horizontally above the county roads I drive on
in the early mornings, a shadow
between the trees like Olympian torches, the trees like burning towers,
like all the birthday candles
he’ll never blow out. I’m always reaching
back through time, brushing snow
off of headstones, reaching
for Emily’s hands. I want to bake a cake
with her, have a birthday party
in the snow. I want to lace
my fingers in hers
and hold the world that’s come between us
like an orphan in our arms, like a child
whose parents died in a fire
no one knows how to put out. I want to sing
to it, tell it to make a wish, let it believe, for a moment,
in something greater than itself.