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As it turns out, the worst part about holding a candle

while doused in gasoline isn't that you are about to burst into flame -

it's that when people see you they only stare.

No one moves

or goes to call 911

or tries to douse the flame with the bottle of water they have in their hand,

no, the worst part is looking around only to see the flicker of light

in everyone's eyes, the brief reflection of our selves,

and all I can think about are the ways I can learn to dance

even after the last ember

has gone out,

the way smoke waltzes with the wind, 

knowing that just like this brief moment we are given to rise into the air,

that light will burst into a slow-motion chain-reaction

crawling across the ground like the tide moving out,

leaving vacant the space where I stood just a second before,

and as quickly as it was there, the reflection will go dark. 


I stood there holding the candle out in front of me,

reaching for a hand, someone to walk me out

of this circle of petroleum petrichor,

but all you see is a flame and the anticipation

of a burn.


For a moment I think someone is walking towards me,

but maybe it's my ghost, already left the body,

understands that its skin is no longer suitable,

ready to watch its life flash before my eyes,

or it could be the fumes

going to my head but it feels like

hope, like

despite the dangerous spark admonishing you back

I just needed you to take it out of my hand,

lick your fingers and hear the fizzle of the idea

that this was how a person burns brighter.


I couldn't help but start to dream of what might happen.

I could rise from the ashes, flame into phoenix, erupt

into the sky like

a new day across the horizon,

but what if i only burned out?

What if I can't come back from that?

What if I drown in my own demons,

these waves of ash now would-be cinnamon,

constellations crashing down like

empty space, breaking into black dust

across bones, kissing oxygen

I turn red, a reminder of my blood.

The ones who taught me how to disappear, you saw me write three words,

fill up an entire journal full of

"I hate myself", I was five,

you thought I had no concept of what it meant,

but it's not a coincidence that when I went to hide you could never find me,

sometimes I would wait for hours until I discovered

you weren't even looking, the same apathy when

I begged you not to be with him,

all of it went up in flames, we may as well be smoke,

buried in the heavy scent of self-medicating,

and now it's my turn to be the blunt, inescapable reality,

the car crash you can't turn away from,

the moment you see the grenade and find

that there is no conscious decision, just impulse of character,

are you a martyr or a survivor,

you can't live to be both. 


And maybe if I don't rise as a phoenix,

I can still be a diamond, after all

it only takes so much pressure before you are forced to be resilient,

or I can be Cai's Sky Ladder climbing my way

into the atmosphere only to rain down

in falling stars, wishes that have been answered.


Most of all I don't want to be the flame.

I want to be the candle,

slowly melt, paint the ground

with my story, the little drips of wax that show you where I've been.

And maybe yours could be next to mine,

for a while,

slowly blend together,

the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi,

always destined to meet one another some day,

after all we will leave from the same place. 


So it only made sense when

you walked up to me, reached out

your hand, lit your own candle

and stood with me knowingly.

Everything was brighter in empathy, and suddenly

I didn't need to be the flame,

or the smoke,

or the diamond,

or phoenix - just me,

the wax falling at our feet. 

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