not of ribbon ignited at dusk, but the wedge of blue cheese
for his birthday. Maybe I hoped that each word, a pyre lit at dusk,
would smoke-signal our ancestors for help with the conversation.
We talked not of the turned wood sculpture on the marble table
or the painting of blue ladies strumming guitars,
not of stormy grains of fog that inhabited the bay or letters sent
about careers, snail mail voice insistent as a wren's curved
aperture, beak and tail up. This was no spiel. Feet did not sink
into the carpet, carpet did not turn to sodden grass,
did not reveal a bridge in the background, only kitchen lights
where Mom pulled dinner out of the oven.
We came less from a storyline—despite Russian pogroms,
an orchard bloomed—than how he grew past his father's
wallpaper, the Flatbush apartment, Yiddish-Hebrew newspapers,
kosher dishes, how young men didn't linger.
What this all means is, despite everything, that evening I inched
forward not talking of birds with you, knees knobbed against
the coffee table, grasping the little knife, cutting
into the smooth chunky cheese, fire and smoke,
made it an encounter. Shoulders sloped as we chuckled,
talking not of birds—what did we talk about?
I wouldn't know he'd die four days later.
No birds. No ribbon. Only the dusk, where bare tree arms,
brown and wet, stretched for the sky.
Laurel Benjamin is a San Francisco Bay Area native, where she invented a secret language with her brother. Affiliated with the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon, Port Townsend Writers, and Ekphrastic Writers, she holds an MFA from Mills College. She is a reader for Common Ground Review and has been featured in the Lily Poetry Review Salon. She has work forthcoming or published in Lily Poetry Review, Pirene's Fountain, The Shore, Sheila-Na-Gig, Mom Egg Review, among others. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize.