The day after Charlie left
Aunt Valda sat in the blackened shell
of her house, smoke rising
like a benediction to God. Her statement
to police was: I did love him.
At family dinners she was the one who danced
always in a new red dress
and hugging her, the sharp smell
of kerosene would rise as a ghost
from behind her ears.
One Valentine's when I was too young
and too old to say I love you, straight-faced -
I gave her, instead, a balloon.
She laughed then let it go,
watched it settle against the ceiling.
Today, twenty years later, two men
are gliding up over Jack's Hill, soft
against the midday: their parachutes
red and beaming as if the sky
now owns a heart.
I watch them and remember Aunt Valda.
Theirs is the gift I never had to give her:
the ability to rise; the way to fill lungs
up with grief, hold it,
and never burst.