Meghan Sterling lives in Portland, Maine. Her poetry has been published in Rattle, Glass, Sky Island Journal, Cider House Press and others. She is a Hewnoaks Artist Colony Resident in 2019 and 2021. Her first full-length collection is forthcoming from Terrapin Books in 2021. Read her work at meghansterling.com
Apology After the Fire
Worn down, the sea rolls beyond sight,
sand stretches the way a shadow is cast
from rock. The sun an unwanted heat.
We have grown our flowers in the shade of the razed forests,
our faces wrapped in gauze, our hands cupping the water
we save from the occasional rain and muddy stream.
How did we arrive here?
My daughter throws her scraps to the dogs
that wander along the highways that once were rivers
that once threaded themselves
through a softening of green.
My daughter knows the meagerness of water,
our constant searching.
But winds, fires, mud, rocks
are in abundance where once there was
grass, bud, butterfly.
I want life to bloom around her the way she blooms
and for her to know the quiet of leaves,
the hum of growing things,
these few seeds I nudge into flower as apology.
We were in love then. Early winter,
the alleys like paper scraps of snow.
Seeking each venue as if the next reading
could deliver salvation.
I wrote on scraps,
refusing to show the others,
letting those scraps grow damp between fingers,
pushing them against the seams of satin pocket liners.
In the alleys, we smoked Marlboros,
shaking in our acrylic gloves, in coats with too-short arms.
We quoted Kafka, pretended we had read everything.
You carried a small suitcase with journals, pencils,
sharpeners, a protractor—you wore your eccentricity
as an accessory. Without money for meals, we ate at bodegas,
saved our pennies for museums, for jazz.
You stole your books from the Strand.
We went for long walks in Park Slope,
looking into windows lit with abundance,
dreaming of living better than
boxes on the stairwell, found furniture.
Everything smelling of last week’s cooking.
At night, we huddled on the mattress,
read passages from Barthes’ Camera Lucida,
shared joints rolled from the cheapest shake.
But poverty wore, frayed like our sleeves.
You stayed out later, I started reading English novels.
Your father offered you a salary
to study business, and when spring came,
you tossed your suitcase out the window
into the muddy alley, your papers soaring
like white birds.