Staring into the bright flame,
a Christmas candle.
Fat, jolly Santa Claus glows red
and flushed.

My sister’s face leans over the candle with me,
and other small faces shine, too, long forgotten,
hanging on the edge of memory.

I have a bead,
transparent green.
I am worrying the ridged spirals under my fingertips.
I drop it into the candle,
where it nestles in the soft wax
against the stiff black wick.

            I am two or three and I love beads.
            I carry them around.
            I stick them in the dark crevices of skeleton key locks
            and put one up my nose
            for safekeeping.

I reach down into the candle,
through the flicker of yellow and blue—

There is the moment before—
A candle, a warm glow, a dancing spit of light.

And there is after.

I learn the word fire. The word burn.
The world will never be the same.

Sitting on my father’s dark heavy desk,
my fingers wrapped in ice but still
unable to escape from the pain.

It is this way with Death.

In an instant,
a howl of pain,
the world is divided.

There is before,
and there is after

You sit, embedded in my chest,
a bright, hard bead.

What came before? What came after?