What We Knew

Tell me about the time we stole our father’s cigarettes.
How we crouched, the way children do

over a caterpillar or a leaf, and turned them
in our vengeful hands—Lucky Strikes, we decided,

remembering the ashy boxes tossed on mother’s daffodils.
It was the summer of scraped knees and superstition

and futile crusades—and don’t you remember?
How we blew out glowing stubs like candles

on a birthday cake, hid the lighter, ground the cylinders
between our palms. As if earnest hands alone could mortify

the flesh, erase a decade’s debt: five dollars per pack,
three packs per week, late-night shouting in the kitchen,

a lung, a life. Please, you said, when he saw the carnage.
Tell me about the way absence makes itself known.

Swamped eyes. Spurned touch. A whisper, not a shout—
and don’t you remember? How you stroked my hair,

pulled me close, gazed out at the blind blue sky.
For what could you have said? How do you elegize a hopeless cause?

Absolve yourself of someone else’s sins?
If love was trying, we thought, then failing was a lack

of love; if a way followed a will, then how could any door
be shut, any route be closed?

Tell me we knew, even then, how foolish we were.
Tell me we did it anyway.

Emily Yin is a freshman studying applied math at Princeton University. Her writing has been recognized by the UK Poetry Society and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Read her work in Indiana Review Online, TRACK//FOUR, and Rust + Moth, among others.

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