You cannot unburn what is burned

Today, a haunting and provocative villanelle from A.E. Stallings (1968-).

Alicia Elsbeth

“Burned”

You cannot unburn what is burned.
Although you scrape the ruined toast,
You can’t go back. It’s time you learned

The butter cannot be unchurned,
You can’t unmail the morning post,
You cannot unburn what is burned–

The lovers in your youth you spurned,
The bridges charred you needed most.
You can’t go back. It’s time you learned

Smoke’s reputation is well earned,
Not just as an acrid, empty boast–
You cannot unburn what is burned.

You longed for home, but while you yearned,
The black ships smoldered on the coast;
You can’t go back. It’s time you learned

That even if you had returned,
You’d only be a kind of ghost,
You can’t go back. It’s time you learned

That what is burned is burned is burned.