My mother and I were alone the night our house burned down. I was nine that summer, and the smell of smoke clung to my clothes. And after the fire a tree in the yard grew crooked with scoliosis, its back bending away from the remains of the house. The years that followed took on a winding cadence, some torsional writhing like a ghost snake muscling on its belly through tall grass. And when I married, I knew that my memories were made of smoke. And some days I spoke to the river and to the stillness of the trees, and after our son was born, I believed that to touch his bare feet to a first snow of the season would keep him safe, that seeing a white horse in a dream would portend that I might die. And some days I stood on our back porch and studied the way the empty fields offered their sorrowful soliloquies. And my wife asked about that childhood crooked tree, and I described how I would climb it every time my father returned us to the ruins and assigned blame. And I described for my wife how my mother and I would sit sometimes at the back of my bedroom closet while she smoked, how other times we escaped outside to hide behind the tree while smoke swirled its forgetfulness around us, and how that night, while my father was out, she touched the tip of one of those cigarettes to the living-room curtains then returned to sit beside me on the couch.