it’s your birthday
when i wake up that day
but you’ve already moved out and live elsewhere and so
will be here only when i come home from school
so i change into jeans and a t-shirt and i catch the bus at
7:15 only having to run a little to do so and i sit next to my then-boyfriend
who is also in 7th grade.
i almost fall asleep again in first period, and catch up with my then-boyfriend
after the bell rings
and we’re walking down the maroon-carpeted ramp
to our next class
swinging our books in our arms and laughing and holding hands talking about godknowswhat
when that kid Jared runs up and past us
it’s 8:36 in the morning in austin, minnesota
and my then-boyfriend and i
at each other
thinking it’s Jared and his antics.
and i squeeze my then-boyfriend’s hand and say goodbye and
step into my next class
and the room is dark and the tv is on and there’s smoke
and it’s your birthday.
i sit in dark classroom after dark classroom and watch the news
the same reports
and the same clips
and listen to the same thing caught in everyone’s throats
and say nothing.
that the cake mom made last night
(filling the house with the chocolate smell that drives me crazy)
sits on the counter
saran-wrapped and still.
i get home at 3:22 and none of us says very much.
we sit at the kitchen island.
while mom frosts that cake and dad grills something out in the garage
filling it with smoke.
none of us knows how we can stand it, how we will ever stand it.
and mom lights the candles on thatcake—
they’re the colored, twisty candles— and the wax melts
dripping down onto our favorite frosting,
whipped cream and chocolate sauce mixed together, simple enough for anyone to manage
for pete’s sake.
and we stand still at the island,
so far from everything ever.
we sing for you,
many many many happy returns.
and it’s 7:23 p.m., and the sun still hangs out of our back windows over the cornfield and the brown, dead stalks drift this way and that in the breeze.
weather-wise it’s a perfect day.
dad slices the chocolate cake.
we eat it,
marveling at the mechanics of our mouths.