At midnight, my dreams drift back to the room I burnt my first incense stick in, my own box of incense I purchased from a store heady with fragrances of various places, each scent as idiosyncratically beautiful as its place of origin
I touch the flame of lighter to tip of cone. The flame dances red, gleams before it extinguishes. Coils of smoke wind into cobwebs made of ancient, pungent smoke trails. My bedroom is covered in webs of smoke.
Regret lingers like the smell of musk from freshly burned incense.
Perhaps, time will have mercy
And restore the stick,
Tracing it back to its first lighting, when it first started to release tendrils of scent.
Perhaps, time will have mercy and go back to that moment of anticipation, hope stored up in those thin shells of fragrance.
But it’s not possible; I burned up my box of incense yesterday.
In my dreams, I reach for the last incense stick in the final box, feeling like the little-match orphan in a room frosted over by nightmares in a blindingly cold white hospital room.
The burning incense stick is my life, the flame is white-hot pain inching its way down under my skin,
Reducing my body to the cinders left on the porcelain bed below.
Smoke rises past my eyes above the ashy shell of the collapsing stick. I burned up my box of incense yesterday but your body is in the hospital room in my place.
I burn incense for your life, extinguished on a bed of porcelain and weep silently into my pillow.
This poem is written in response to the daily prompt. It is a Chinese custom to burn incense to honor the deceased, and that was going through my mind after I burned incense one day. The poem is also related to a painful experience I had in a hospital room and tied to the recent death of a friend, as well as guilt I have after the event.