We Were Waiting
The trees undress as gradually as parents
after a dinner party and everything outside
smells smoky: burnt-wick branches,
leaves drifted like spent flames—as if hundreds
of front lawns flared and snuffed to brace
themselves for winter. One night, a mother
and father return whispering, slip off
their shoes and tiptoe to kiss their daughters’
foreheads. Her earrings unclasp in her fingers,
a glass fills with tapwater at his touch.
Upstairs, he tugs her zipper—her dress curls
from her shoulders and sifts to the floor,
their bare limbs sway into each other.
In family legend, this is how the fire began:
castoff party clothes like leaves, arms and legs
like twigs, the house itself a furnace. The parents
woke to find their hair singed gray, their skin
dry and wrinkled, their daughters’ beds empty,
ash collected on the pillows. It happened so quickly,
said the father. Yes, said the mother,
And we didn’t even realize we were waiting for it.
Brenna W. Lemieux earned a BA at Bucknell University and an MFA from Southern Illinois University–Carbondale. “We Were Waiting” was one of three poems awarded the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Prize in 2011. All three poems appear on the fund’s website here. Her poems have also appeared or are forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Threepenny Review, and Ploughshares, among others. She currently lives in Illinois.