We gathered our water and packs at daybreak to hike hand in hand toward the distant ruin— a tall stone chimney planted on otherwise empty acreage, a kudzu-covered tower, the ghost of a farmhouse now a home to field mice, black beetles and bats, with bricks the color of weathered blood, vertebrae stacked a century and a half ago by a stonemason’s craft, still solid and bonded despite the slow decay of arthritic mortar.
How long have we walked together?
The morning is all we have left to ponder. We walk for hours; the chimney grows larger at our approach. I want to ask you a question about the night we met, what you said just before I held you for the first time, but then I catch sight of my hand and realize I am walking alone, moving inexorably toward a ruination of my own making. How could I have been so careless? Unable to stop, every step strips something away: my hair thins and falls, as white and weak as sickled wiregrass; another step and my body atomizes into the stuff of stars, pollen scattered on a rising wind.
So this is what it feels like to decay.
By the time I reach the ruin I am mostly cinder and ash, a sorry vestige sown in a quiet field, a forgotten landmark that strangers will visit, if only to contemplate how the evening fog spindles like smoke along the enduring column of my spine.