R.G. Evans shows us how the seemingly simple questions our children ask us can set off a whole train of complicated associations.
What is smoke? my daughter asks
beside a campfire I can’t quite get to flame.
I know it’s not a liquid, she says.
Is it a gas? Is it a solid?
Simple. Straightforward. Something
I should know, I’m sure.
I start to say it’s what’s left
when the wood gives up the ghost,
but then I think of ash—
I always think of ash,
how it’s something but nothing,
what’s left when something’s gone.
There was a woman, then there was ash
her husband and the men she loved
scattered on the beach. The wind
wouldn’t let her stay there where she wanted.
My mother, seeding cancer, more ash
than paper dangling from her Lucky Strike.
What is it? my daughter says.
Nothing, I respond.
No, she says, what is smoke? I say
It’s what I make instead of fire.
Originally published in Pif Magazine
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