The history is not written in my face,
and even if you looked you would see ash
erasing what I was before my shame.
A wicked thing, old wives beside the fire
agreed. They had no pity for the tears
I wept when I knew what our love had broken.
My sister’s son once took a bow he’d broken
and laid it in the temple, in his face
a frenzied hope the gods would see his tears
and make it whole. Later he took the ash—
some priest had, thoughtless, tossed it on the fire—
and gave it to the winds. So with my shame.
I wonder sometimes if a man knows shame
the way a woman can—her body broken,
talk consuming her like hungry fire.
Do strangers count your missteps to your face?
Remind you that your value is but ash?
Believe your guilt and disregard your tears?
At first, with you, there was no need for tears;
my love was such I did not think of shame
when stolen torches burnt their way to ash
and we lay still, the starlit silence broken
by our heartbeats. I still see your face,
its shadowed mystery by the dying fire.
I did not know then that you are the fire,
and that no stormcloud heavy with old tears
could put the flames out once I’d seen your face
stripped of its mystery. This was my true shame:
that I believed the promises you’d broken
and not the one that turned my flesh to ash.
There is a tale of birds born out of ash:
their feathers crimson, scarlet, glowing fire,
and when they die they rise again unbroken,
so for these birds there is no grief or tears.
Their beauty puts all lesser lights to shame—
and such a light will shine in our son’s face.
What will the ash-born be, welcomed with tears,
veins hot with fire and his mother’s shame,
the broken story written in his face?