Marsh Muirhead

After the Fire

After the office fire, I built another out back,
began burning the old patient charts, sooty,
damp at the edges, filed away day by day,
thirty-five years of open mouths,
waggling tongues, accounts over-due,
notes in the margins—will send fifty dollars
next month, doesn't floss, deceased,
heart condition, terrified.

The sticky charts resist the fire,
require prodding, poking with a sharp stick
to separate each from each,
allowing the flames to curl in from the edges,
burning the names, assuring the anonymity
and privacy required by law:
suspicious lesions and extractions, abscesses,
anxiety, and anesthesia, the swollen jaws
and sticky pits from too much Mountain Dew.

So odd, recalling the faces and days
as they burn and blacken,
shoot into the starry night sky—
the sparks and ashes of winter afternoons,
the arrivals and departures of children
and their children, teeth, rising and falling
like leaves, season after season, cooling,
falling, until, only the bright embers remain,
then dim, and wink out.