After the Fire – Leah Mueller

After the fire I heard your voice,
low and Midwestern: the syllable
bursts of erratic heat, hoarse
cadence musical, familiar.
Years in the Northwest turned my own
words into monotonous rain. Your clumsy
thrust ejects from my belly, illuminates
my breath with manufactured warmth.

Two Decembers ago, we hiked
to Multnomah Falls summit, and
I showed you the river below. Your face
in the wind, pale from Michigan cold.
That sideways look of appraisal.
Your body as it ascended the switchbacks,
liberated from the tyranny
of asphalt and party stores. Both of us
waking up in the Jupiter Hotel,
spent and wanting more. Later,
you shed airport tears, but I refused to stay.

Somewhere along the path,
your hat flew away: its absence
a mystery after our descent. Though
you searched the parking lot, the hat
was already gone, nestled in the brush
like a terrified animal. In the lodge,
you shrugged over a beer and cut
your losses. We drank a toast
to our own impermanence.

Somebody played with firecrackers,
evergreens erupted into flames.
Underbrush burned to jagged
cinders:  trail closed until further notice.
I wonder if the fire rustled
your hat from its hiding spot, tore
the canvas to shreds. Probably
it remained hidden for as long as it could
You would know a bit about that.

The waterfall continues its plunge
as I wait for the trail to re-open. I
will your voice into submission, but
your ersatz heart springs from
my chest before I have the chance
to extinguish it. You have the audacity
to light matches during a drought, and I
was never much good with water.

Leah MuellerLeah Mueller is the author of two chapbooks, Queen of Dorksville and Political Apnea and three books, Allergic to Everything, Beach Dweller Manifesto and The Underside of the Snake. Her work appears in Blunderbuss, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and other magazines and anthologies. She was a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest.