Scott Withiam


I have no sense of myself. Everything is done or decided for me.

Most of all, I have no sense of who my people are. We never, then,

could have suffered

a plague, although a variety of experts in their fields

who posit that cultures have figured everything out

thanks to the communal sense—themselves perched on the outside—

have called my plight something worse than a plague.

Then let me play it safe, let me speak from beneath the skin.

Once my people harvested rice and wheat,

they burned all fields. Experts, too.

During those times, everyone smelled like smoke.

That sense of insignificance was the heart of our cosmology.

We did not know modern depression. If we got low,

it was to literally stay below the smoke

just to breathe. The mood was festive

and we crawled on our bellies.

Greetings then were unavoidably personal.

Climbing over someone was done in jest

and quickly abandoned. You did not want to get higher

or taller or bigger, if you wanted to live (the smoke).

Because of looming darkness (the smoke),

we burned candles at home, laid on our backs, waited

for the candles to burn down,

sputter. It was then that every object in the room became animated,

alive, which is why any people who matter burn in the first place—

to make way for new life, not define it.

In our mythology there was one candle, the tall tapered kind

which might, at any time, descend, bend as if to whisper information

into the ear of a sputterer just before it went out,

and doing so, light itself.

If that candle visited your house,

you were cursed in the head.

Everything got bright, therefore still.