By Tanner Celestin
Underneath a canopy of leaves
you teach me how to build a fire,
twisting sticks between my hands
until my palms are blistered red
and I have to soak them in the stream.
My conjured flames offset the cold.
Inside the tent at night we fight the cold
by falling together like dying leaves
into sleep lulled by the babbling stream
and the comfort of body heat like fire.
And in the morning when my nose is red
you breathe warmth back into my hands.
I cup breakfast berries in my hands
because I like to feel them when they’re cold.
They stain the creases of my palms red
no matter how hard I scrub, leaving
a mark against my skin as bright as a fire
that cannot be quelled by the stream.
Light breaks through the trees in a stream
too beautiful to be created by hand,
yet destructive enough to start forest fires.
Sometimes your love makes me cold.
I know that everyone in this world leaves
and that blood cannot retain its red.
You love to camp in autumn because red
is your favorite color, and the stream
is just high enough that it leaves
you breathless after you plunge your hands,
your arms, your chest into the cold
until you emerge cleansed, phoenix out of the fire.
At twilight I always build you a fire
and rub your arms until they’re red
and I’ve fought off your impending cold.
The sounds of embers sizzling as they hit the stream
fade as you turn pages in your hands
and read to me words of grass and leaves.
The fire dies as the smoke streams
and leaves a heap of embers glowing red.
We breathe warmth back into our cold hands.
Donald Hall Poetry Prize Winner