What is Bright Also Burns – Megan Busbice

a casual exploration of the fatal flaw


on the way to the farmers market
in the backseat of her Subaru
we talked about all the ways we would
become villains, in some other
version of the story. wry smile, thrown
backwards—a knowing meeting
of eyes. blue bandana, wicker basket,
crystals weighing in linen pockets—
I am already becoming exactly what
you wanted; I am already the mirror eyes
in which you only see yourself. the windows
are cracked in the screaming highway
as we wind through the valley of the gentle
green mountains in the summer. tanned
knees, wrists, freckles across the nose—
each of us with our fearlessly exposed flesh.
My resentment drowns me, it echoes violent
in the cursed cathedral of my mind, where I
am unsure who to blame except for everyone
and myself. they are scrolling through the recipe:
yellow squash, parsley, perhaps some locally
sourced honey, if we can find it. Sometimes I
lie, and I don’t know whether to blame it on
the ambition, the fear, or the need to be
adored. Sometimes I am only comprised of
whatever it takes to prove that I am worth
my survival. I lean my head against the glass
and watch the perfect robin-egg blue tilt
celestial, glowing as surely as the sun. sky-daze,
late-july, spinning with the familiar novelty
of it all. I say in a laughing voice: Sometimes
I think that fury is the only thing I can really feel.
Sometimes I just want to drop a match on my life
and watch it all go up in smoke. Sometimes I just
want to scream, and tell everyone that they will
never be forgiven, and I want to bring about the
end of this miserable earth all by myself. they nod
knowingly. we pull into the parking lot. strapping on
sandals, throwing tote bags over shoulders. there’s fresh
coffee; there’s lemon sorbet. we are already twenty-one
and full of light again, except for all the shadowed
parts. we are already eating watermelon and spitting
out the seeds. we are already laughing at the perfection
of our lives—how good we are, how good we feel. in
another life, we were villains. but not in this one,
of course.


photograph of a broken thing realized (unposted, 2021)


unsettled by my own manic blue, the polar shards
of two eyes caught in mid-July sun. devout to
slenderness, the pale curve of an arm, shoulders
burned rosy as lips. crouching under ancient stone,
embraced by two other smiles, I remember thinking
that this is what glory looked like. the bones of my
cheeks, the icy crush of my eyes, waterfall spray
sprouting mica shimmer across all that exposed skin—
I was twenty-one and withered down to the brightness,
living eternally at the flash-point, carving deeper toward
my particular and desolate beauty.
but even back then, I refused
to post the photo, unsettled
by my own manic blue. I see
now the starved, screaming joy
of the unmended and unmitigated
dissolution. I see the sheer sacrifice
of the aesthetic, the smear of brightness
over the whole gorgeously unwell
enterprise. I wonder if the waterfall
itself knew, matching blue for blue,
saying: she has stolen something from
herself to earn that bubbling cyan,
that spirited and pigmented seep, that
spilled-over soul-window that spins
more strangely than any current I’ve
ever known.


heliocentrism & other forms of missing you


sun-spot, dearest,
with your peculiar variety
of grief. solar-flare
days with your yellow
bedroom and your romance
novels, eating pomegranate
seeds in the lunch room and
going blonde in summer rays.
how complex this particular
tangled magnetism just beyond
the surface, this place where all
the combustion burns out: with
familiarity I grow toward your
patched-over laughter and your
fevered pursuit of beauty, your love
for the theater since every moment
of your life is performance.
you have brought me wildflowers;
you teach me how to fold paper cranes.
occasionally, you simply disappear—
and I’m left to wonder and reckon and
persist in the dark until you appear again
light-spectrum and sun-kissed and singing
under your breath. I can almost, but not
quite, forget the geomagnetic storms of loving you.
chasing down the chlorophyll, crease of old library
books, the way that you would read my every
written word, the way that I would be your
understudy in every show, ordering pizza
and dreaming in shallow snow—girlhood,
with its baroque simplicity, with its banshee
euphoria, tender and wild and so finite with
the inevitable inrush of what must be contended
with. so often what is bright also burns—so too
do you. leaving too early, my every summer stolen,
waiting simply for you to return and realize
that my house is still around the corner, that I still
write stories that you might like to read, that I
attended your opening night to celebrate your birthday—
even if you didn’t want to speak to me
after curtain call.




we thought we’d evolved beyond the map, but
as it turns out appalachia knows how to hide
from the satellites. in the shadow of a mountainside
in a place called Luck, all the green blurs over
and beyond us as we wind and wind into the granite.
signal dips and the same muddy and moth-filled
folk song plays over and over again, and we laugh
at the meandering repetition of these days. we are
quite possibly getting lost, even as we speak, even
as I pull over at the dead gas station to read the
instructions, spelled out like a recipe—take a slight
right at the fork. I gave you the passenger’s seat because
I knew you’d want to see all the old barns lined up
on the desolate hillsides, and I was right, as you lean
nearly nose-tip to the window glass to pick out
the patchwork wood and the memory. I did many things
just to preserve your wonder, in those days
where it was just the two of us against the silence. you
said to me then: I want to live in the valley, next to
a little clear stream, in a cabin built of stone. you said: I want
to stop here to take a photo, of that particular shard of light
through the canopy, of the way that this moment glows
concurrently as it dies. you wanted so much back then—
we both did—hungry for any miracle to make the
day worth living. we thought we’d evolved beyond
the map in those days. we hadn’t, of course, but
we didn’t know the difference between lost and loss
yet, and for the moment there was just your wide-eyed wonder
and the curl of the mountains and a thousand green gifts
of spring in the early daylight.

indecision, prolonged


the blue dusk-fog bleeds electric
and violent at the close of day. each
rosary stop-light flicker warns flashing
red, every shard of power drained out
of the earth. these wires, these clouds,
these fluorescents we use to chase away
finality have a way of haunting us
all the same. not quite night, no—nothing
ever so sure as ending. wavering at
the edge of every afterlife saying: but what
if there is something worth saving? turn,
turn, orpheus, and see that there was
nothing behind you after all. the dusk-fog,
hungry, swarms the mind. a kind of panic,
a kind of delirium, this faithless hope, this
hesitation in the ever-liminal. the sky is raining
unsent correspondence. every car horn curls
into one endless diminished chord. sidewalk
cracks form static, form the threaded scars
of a life after lightning-strike. I stand in an
empty crossroads and watch the red lights
blink in and out, needlessly precautionary—
I taste the apocalypse as bitter as copper
and word. I linger as the blue approaches,
as I start to feel the cobalt settle dew on the
ripe skin of my cheeks. nearly tears, nearly.
but what if? my unspoken voice echoes and
muffles as the haze settles, and the city disappears—
is swallowed—as surely as I am. by the clawing
murk of a drawn-out finale, of a wound never
quite closed. I learn the hard way that an unmade
decision can be just as immortal as any other
consequence: ever caught in the blue, in the warp
of an unnamed pain, in the way it transforms me
into one long blur and bruise as I am lost to the
wondering, in the grips of the azure.