after a photograph by Tyler Hicks for the New York Times


When I got home from work,
the cat that lives in our building
wound itself around my ankles
I was about to go in and call Olena
the sky exploded over my head
how did it not kill me
that burning apartment is mine
was mine
the distance between enough and nothing
can be traveled in an instant
only lucky people say less is more
right now my books are burning
my clothes, the new winter coat
Olena convinced me to buy
the blankets are burning
I should have kept them in the car
I should have known I’d end up living there
haven’t I seen enough to understand
everything is fragile
walls are fragile
steel is fragile
easily twisted under sufficient force

Last night Olena and I were having a fight
she slammed the bathroom door, the water ran
for minutes I stood outside the door
before I found the courage to open
on steamy air and say I was sorry
crying she stood up in the bath
water streaming down her
You don’t love me she cried
you don’t care about me at all
her feet left puddles across the floor
in the bedroom she grabbed her robe
shoving wet arms into stubborn sleeves
just then the sirens started
Get dressed, I said, we have to go
to the basement now
I mean it, now
Don’t talk to me like that, she said
but she dressed and in silence we made our way
down the stairs
                                voices from below
at arm’s length watching us
through the empty eyes of doors at the landings

I tried to take her hand
                                                  she wouldn’t
and then she did
                                     for a moment
and then let go. I do, I said.
Do what? I could barely hear her.
Care about you
how did I not say I loved her
we descended another flight
We’ll see, she said.

                                        Below, we sat in silence
on an old trunk, pressed together at the hip
an old man was loud and then subsided
a mother tried to distract her children
the explosions were distant
                                                           the in-between times
were worse
                               They did not find us
                                                                         Is there
one God watching all this?
I’m so tired, she said, slumping against me.

When the raid seemed over
                                                     long past curfew
she couldn’t go home, we climbed the stairs
and regardless of everything slept
this morning she said That was a stupid fight
I know, I said, I’m sorry, I don’t
know why I’m so stupid
                                                 Shut up, she said,
giving me a peck on the cheek
                                                            and left.

Her phone rings but she doesn’t pick up
less is less from moment to moment
still less as flames pour out and up
I can hear something inside collapse

Pick up, Olena
                                                 please answer now

I wish I had flowers to lay on yesterday’s grave