“Untitled” by Lona Panter

I just want to burn shit down, she says
and her voice sounds like a child’s, even though she is forty-five
She flicks a Bic at the grass, at each little blade that stands so stoically,
at each little soldier cemented to the ground
And I understood just how hard it was for her to watch them standing still,
sitting silently, waiting for nothing
She was part of something once, she says,
part of something that felt bigger than flannel shirts and Seattle bands
Part of something that had more verve, she says,
more fight than the kids she sees today with skinny jeans and bangs
I want to light them on fire, she mutters,
and brushes her own bangs, her dark hair, back from her scowling face
She used to carry a Zippo, a tarnished silver lighter
she could refill whenever she had time and necessary supplies
But she lost it somewhere off of I-75, at a truck stop
where she sipped diet soda and ate nuked burritos for breakfast
And now she buys the disposables,
because she never has to turn around four exits later and go back to search
Doesn’t matter much now, she figures,
since she’s the only one she knows who still has the strength to smoke
My motivation never left me, she says,
and reaches into the pockets of her jacket for the cigarettes she loves
The smokes have never left her either,
through jobs and boyfriends and dogs and that brief stint in East Tennessee
So I watch her sit, her hands long and scarred, like a woodworker’s,
as she caresses the lighter’s plastic shell
Remember when there weren’t childproof locks on these, she asks,
and I nod, even though it is a lie
We have never smoked together, my sister and I,
but I have watched her red tip bob through the night for years
And now that I am over thirty-five, I understand the need to burn things down,
but I just cannot decide if it’s those
idealistic, verve-lacking, bang-wearing, skinny-jeaned kids
that I want to torch
or her.

 

Lona Panter is a former newspaper editor who grew up in the tri-state area of Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. She currently lives outside Athens, Georgia, and returns to her hometown of Blue Ridge as often as she can.

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