What Fire Was Like



leaves on fire

What we needed, we did not want.
What we wanted, we did not need.
Whatever safety I sought in you
Did not exist there.

We were in a cold room, two sticks
for hearts. When they rubbed
together, some kind of furious dance,
a spark, ignited the bed,
set the house on fire.

There is no joy in melting
into the other. No self in the end,
no sense of what made
us whole—or what we made.

The skeleton frame of the house
stood still, smoldering and terrible,
while we watched, our hands seared
by nothing we could touch.

key words: Janice Lynch Schuster, poetry, divorce

Tough Love

We bury our children whole.
All the tools and love
In our hands spun out
Of our control, destroyed
What we meant to flourish.

There is no going back
From this pile of rocks
And dirt under which bright
Lives remain, suffocated and lost.

We invented our poisons
And failed to estimate
The caustic profits, unintended
Consequences, wages of pain.

We had no idea, really,
What we were doing,
And pretended.
We could not end it,
Even with all our weight
Behind it, and our hearts
Dragging in the mud.

So here, we bury another child
Who, for all our pain,
Could not endure
This world.

That Would Be singing

We had gone as far as the road
Could take us. We’d come to other forks,
Made up our minds, made do.

This place, though, we gave up
Our fancy machines and traveled
On by foot.

Sometimes, we still laughed,
Caught our breath at wonders
That came our way.
When we had to, we raised
Our voices to the wind
As if it might change direction.

While we had each other,
We were never lost. Even when night
Worried us, or we faltered.
We held each other steady.

But at this stopping point
The path is only wide enough
For one to go, one to follow.

I will take the light, you say,
Wait here, I will clear a way.
I can hear you sing
One old tune we both could carry.

Then silence, so I pick up
Where you left off.
The only way out
Is through. We will meet 
In the end.

January Drifts


We will not gather here again.
You slip through time, I stand
On a vacant shore. Your small boat
Catches waves, drifts, swells,
Whitecaps and breakers. We might once
Have toyed with these, or, toppled, righted.
Anymore, we are stranded. I haven’t arms
To keep you afloat. All our terrors,
Our worried minds, our loves–
We kick them off, like heavy shoes.
We tread, we huddle, we drift
So long we feel like creatures
Of the sea, hardly able to breathe.
The currents move so quick,
The horizon always shifts.

That Would Be Singing

We had gone as far as the road
Could take us. We’d come to other forks
And made up our minds, or made do.
Here, though, we gave up our fancy machines
And stumbled on, by foot.

 Sometimes, we had stopped to laugh
Or catch our breath at wonders
That came our way. When we had to,
We raised angry voices to the wind,
As if it might change direction.

We had the latest gadgets,
Which told us where we were,
Thirty-feet, more or less.

Since we had each other, we claimed
We were never lost. Sometimes night
Took us by surprise,
And when we faltered,
We held each other tight.

Here at this stopping point
The path is only wide enough
For one to go, and one to follow.
You take the light, I say,
Since you insist on clearing a way
And leading me with that one good hand.

For a bit, I hear you sing
A little tune, and I hum along.
Then you see something ahead,
And you hurry. I don’t.

Wait here, you say. I’ll check this out.
And though the unknown
Has long worried me,
You are fearless.

I wait.

I kiss your dry cheek
And watch you fade
Through an opening.

Cry though I might,
I cannot get you back.
Nor can I turn around.

I’ll stand a while,
Before I move along.


Oil painting by Ryutaro Ikeda.

key words: dying, loss, grief