You’d never imagine the strength
An eleven year old boy can muster,
Dragging his sister through the smoke.
Nine years old next Tuesday.
She takes a long, slow drag from the pipe,
Cupping it in her mouth, blowing out smooth,
Then passes it to me.
Tiny red ember, delicate crown of ash.
You can’t stop to think when you reach the stairs,
Even though you feel her head hitting
Each one, all the way down.
We were playing with the birthday candles.
Whenever people ask who’s older,
My brother or I,
I say, “I’m the youngest.”
Should have been born a woman.
The fire chief knew enough not to stop me,
To let me come to it on my own.
I breathed and breathed and breathed into her mouth.
There was no keening. A boy’s wailing can’t comfort the dead.
I hold the pipe for a moment,
Then just pass it along.
Maybe try an edible later.
Never could stand the smell.