We all had devilish grins in a long yard with a birthday girl you could be proud of. A piñata hung from a branch. A radio boomed with the day’s news. The birthday girl told us today was a day to remember. Today was fresh. Never a day like today. Candles fresh from down the street. We put our hands in the air and welcomed scuffed knees into our laps. We talked about the rivers of our country, irregular shapes, keeping our words safe. Today was important. Bubble watchers of time, someone said. We must milk it for what it’s worth. The birthday girl made a rhyme about time and made us sing for so long the candles were waxing blue all over the cake. We weren’t sure about eating the cake anymore. Some kids teared up at the cake. Some of the older ones became sad at the thought of their own final birthdays. And others imagined the dead pigs floating in a river we just heard about over the radio. And really, we weren’t all supposed to be collectively mourning. But anything for the birthday girl: We all wanted to remember. It’s her day, we thought. We should remember. Light scattering onto the table. Plastic birds arranged in the flowers to look fresh as a forest. Slight cry of the babies up from their naps and ready to begin. However, the fact is the birthday girl did, for just a second, feel what a mean, airless little world it could be. She imagined brick, everything touched by human hand, now gone. She imagined a hand across her neck. Everything fallen. The way the flour fell slowly, the way the knife cut the layers of the cake to be flat, the way the cake was arranged perched on a platter, frosted with slight ripples. A fragile air was all around, as if something might snap, as if the river had a voice, making us listen harder to hear the sound of what isn’t human.
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EMILY KOEHN’s poems are forthcoming or have appeared in FENCE, Waxwing, Crazyhorse, Cincinnati Review, Vinyl, and elsewhere. She has her B A in creative writing from Oberlin College, MFA in poetry from Purdue University, and MSW from the University of Houston. Koehn currently lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and teaches at Washington University. She is also the St. Louis Site Coordinator for Poetry Inside Out, a poetry translation program in the public schools.