Where am I?
I stand alone on a barren heath, where the grass grows sideways, bowing to the wind. My head pounds, making it feel somehow distant, separate from the rest of my body. But the air is bracing, and it brings me back to myself.
The sky is half-clear, clouds sweeping or being swept across it like pieces across a chessboard, gracefully and soundlessly. The sky is blue, but not bright, the cloud not too dark, but not too soft. The air is akin to the winter gusts that tear through your coat and scarf , rushing down from the Arctic over the plains, gathering force and cracking bitterness of cold as they go.
It is, however, salty, carrying with it the traces of brine from the west. In that direction, looking down from where I stand, I see a white house.
I can see it, and inside of it, though it be even farther away than it seems. There’s a blue glow within, the sound of voices and the smell of oven-fried steak, coffee and apple pie. It is a scene rebuilt from memory–my memory, behold. I see the chair in which I believe myself to be seated–to have sat? but there is nothing there. Food on the plate disappears, a cup is drained, a card in the deck is lifted and added to the hand at my place. The tiny flecks of vanilla in the ice cream are clearly visible there.
Other faces are there–sort of–and whose? Only two I know for certain, yours, the cook, and yours, the banterer.
Not far off are loose stones for a project, a garden with corn grown tall, wood taking shape on the edge of the glade–all for the children, again, we hear–and a converted barn where the smell of roast turkeys past still lingers. Voices, laughter, and an empty chair.
Am I seeing it with my own eyes? Or rather, is this…from my memory?
Perhaps not. For while I remember, I am not–was not–there.
In and out of the house, I look here, there, see a sign with a name, a very familiar car, and, to my surprise, a large stone box. Ah, not a box, but some kind of pyre, an altar. It’s disused, but impressively made. It has gems set in it, expenses proclaimed, with the names of the artists stamped on the edges and corners. And lots of writing. As the art of Islam takes in and returns the curving script of its book, so this altar is covered in words.
But they are printed a bit too large, I think to myself. Yet they can’t be read–and they mean nothing.
I was never anything to you.
And in that way
I never was.
I was but a shadow in your house,
eating your food
and laughing at your jokes.
The fire burns elsewhere, and it burns blue.