I burned a small box of poetry tonight. I was torn, but it was not mine to keep, let alone read.
So how do I know it was poetry? Because I know the person who wrote it.
When my son arrived a couple days ahead of his wife and child, while unpacking his car, he set aside a shoebox, saying. “We’ll have to have a fire while I’m here.” The box contained letters from his high school girlfriend.
She was a wood nymph, and as such, one did not see her for more than just a fleeting glimpse unless she chose otherwise. Yet, once one encounters such a creature, all one needs is a shadow to know that another one is near.
It may be unseemly to write about this young woman in a manner other than to remark that she was my son’s first love, but parents notice things. We have the advantage of experience, and the memories that coincide, to recognize a demeanor, a carriage, and even a body type that fits into an episode of our own past, and for better or worse, have hopes for the children, or draw conclusions.
“Is it to be a ceremonial pyre, or simply a dispatch?”
“Just burn them.”
We never got around to it while he was here. But to leave it at that would be dishonest, for, as I said before, I was torn.
I remember my first long-term girlfriend. Hell, who doesn’t? And although it did not end any better than while in it, the emotions of it persisted for longer than it lasted. A kind of limbo that allowed us to find ourselves conveniently and mutually drunk one night; and then with the nostalgia sufficiently sated, strangers the next. Again, nothing unusual, and therefore with nothing one can consider magical.
I too wrote love poems back then. Or perhaps passion poems, unrefined quatrains and couplets spurred more by a sense of the unrequited than the taste and smell of intermingled sweat. I knew these were secrets my son and his first love shared, and so I imagined this young woman’s poems as those I did not get a chance to write; and when my son’s visit had ended and the box remained behind, I had choices to consider.
It’s not that he forgot to burn them. We had talked about the contents of the box, their author and the relationship over beers and smokes as we barbequed. It would have been easy to set the box on the coals and close the lid as we carried in dinner. We also talked about leaving them behind as fodder for a story I could write. But he never said that he wanted to keep them. That part of his life was done, resolved, and his place was in the present with his wife and child.
So, it was left to me.
I cannot say that I didn’t peak. But I don’t suppose anyone would believe that I did little more than see that there were stanzas. And I thought again that perhaps they should be saved, but only because I wonder for him what it would be like to have such a box at my age.
I also found old blank checks and financial documents.