Mea Culpa

— Abigail McFee

In December, I went to visit my mother
in the mesquite. I planned to do the wrong
thing and meet an ex-lover after, in a city
whose name he pronounced incorrectly
like a type of candy. To willfully forget
history. I wandered straight-faced
in the arroyo seco and read dictionary entries.
I would be the only injury. Mea culpa,
I said to the bone-colored leaves. Through
my fault
—a wide crack, like those in the body
of the red rock. My mother cried during a TV show
in which a girl builds her own pickup truck
from parts. She and I drove up an aspen ridge
to see the sunset, passing signs at the mouth
of the national forest: PRESCRIBED BURN. DO NOT
We couldn’t see the fire, only smoke
so thick the stench of charred fatwood snuck in
through the window seams, and the road blanched
like a painting covered in white cloth after
a death. I looked up then, and saw it: high
on the mountain, the flame, festering in a pocket
of trees as if cupped by a woman’s palms.

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