By Ava O’Malley 

I cannot build fires in my new city,
So I embrace the flames my mother makes,
Illuminating the farthest corner of our wooded backyard:
a fire fueled by dry twigs and kindling and occasionally,
Last month’s Plain Dealer soaked in sharp-smelling lighter fluid.

I thought of you and an ember floated from the fire,
Singeing against the fine hair of my thigh
And I wondered,
Will you miss me when I go?

I asked my sister,
How does it feel to get older
in a city that does not know us?
When will I finally be rid of
The essence of adolescence,
Of the fluff of my first kiss still caked
Under my fingernails?

The small town roads run farther than we were told,
And I find myself genuflecting at the landmarks of my youth,
Whispering prayers that feel more like promises
Into the cracked concrete of cul-de-sacs,
Over the handfuls of seaglass I collect at the shore and forget in my backpack,
Against the jagged bark of trees that fill the springtimes with too much pollen.

The sky feels bigger here,
As if it is holding every childhood dream
Just out of reach.

I thought of you and an ember floated from the fire,
Hissing as its light died against my skin.
The soot stayed late into the next morning,
A final shout of what could have been.

Ava O’Malley is a Cleveland-born writer living in Chicago, IL. O’Malley graduated with her bachelor’s in journalism and Spanish from DePaul University in June, 2022, and is continuing on as a Master’s in Writing and Publishing student at the same university. Her writing, which spans creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry and reporting, often focuses on queer identity, spirituality, and memory.