If The Day You Died Could Breathe

51654922_10102126881270108_8194021371328593920_n

If the day you died could breathe, it would be a millennial by now.

Maybe a sad girl, but I believe most likely a willowy boy.

He’d have a shaggy halo of sandy hair and

freckles falling like snow across his chest.

He would be startlingly pale and frustratingly rambunctious,

the paradoxical apple of his father’s eye.

If the day you died had a pulse, it would beat like a pencil tapped nervously

against an elementary school desk as the bad news was born.

I cannot forget the face of the boy beside me,

mouth agape and hand opening to release

the pencil rolling off his desk, and rolling and rolling

in my brain for 24 years.

If the day you died was a song, it would be “Name” by Goo Goo Dolls,

it was always on the radio and I wasn’t okay,

and it made me cry in grocery stores for the next 20 years,

‘til only recently I learned to smile for the time there was.

The guitar at the end reels like my brain

in the treehouse, mid-March, saying “God, why wouldn’t you save him?”

If your death had a perfume, it would surely be God-forsaken Bradford Pear trees.

The confused breeze of March is

warm and cold at the same time,

but smells sickly and floral and makes my nose itch.

I cannot remember what tree it was that we planted outside the school

But our friends say it is still there, even today.

If your death was a music video it would be children running through the aisles.

An old-fashioned Walmart garden center. (Sale! Red Roses $6.99)

A worker calling us to come back. (Nametag: Hi, I’m Jack)

We should slow down. (Time is a buzz saw waiting in the distance)

Elevator music. (Hall & Oates, I loathe you)

The instant reminders of restaurants. (Working through college, waiting tables)

If your death had a fingerprint, it would be all ten of mine,

pushing against the backseat glass, pleading

“Please turn around!

I want to say goodbye!”

My last chance fading

into the distance in Jamestown.

If the day you died was a costume party, here’s a fun surprise!

All this time, I thought I was the only one remembering this,

but then I found out everyone else got turned upside down that day,

and it felt like I’d shown up for a costume party where we all

accidentally dressed as Chipper Jones from the ’93 Braves team.

Because you’d have loved that.

If your death was a sarcastic person reading this poem, they’d sigh heavily,

“Does she write anything other than Dead People Poetry?”

Nope.

Sorry to disappoint you.

Just a one-trick pony

with loss issues. (Dress that in black and take it to a funeral)

 

There are three things I’ll never forget about

the death-birth day, 24 years old now,

if only it had air in its lungs and a tongue to say “I lived.”

The first:

Your dad at the baseball field a few years later,

and I didn’t realize at the time – this was how he fooled himself.

With the clang of baseball bats, the din of boys yelling, big lights glaring overhead.

I said “How are you doing, Mr. Jack?” and he said

“About as well as I could expect, I guess.”

Number Two.

Windows rolled down on my mom’s ’96 Buick Park Avenue

because I had my permit.

My first lonely-sunny stop was to see you under that tree at Hillcrest.

There, I updated you on what a loser I was,

and the birds laughed on your behalf, and it was a beautiful moment.

Number Three.

It doesn’t matter what I do,

as my sons do their homework,

a No. 2 pencil audibly rolling

and striking the ground

will always conjure your name.

Immortality: Achieved so easily.

 

Pink Pampas Grass

As I reflect on my past 35 years of life today and look towards a busy week and a new year of milestones, I feel both reflective and thankful. One thing I’ve been meditating on the last couple of weeks is all the wonderfully beautiful, colorful things that exist in my memory of my non-digital childhood. I think being born in 1984 was such an incredible blessing of pure chance – we were among the last generations to use landlines, stay out from sun up to sun down on the weekends, and ride bikes unencumbered around our neighborhoods. I think I’ll always endeavor to try to bring little aspects of this – the freedom, adventure, and simplicity of my childhood – to my kids’ lives. This poem is the first poem I’ve written in a decade or more, and it is dedicated to William and Jonica. I hope you guys are enjoying a beer in Heaven while I drink coffee here on earth. You are the narrators of some beautiful memories around the pampas grass.

Pink Pampas Grass

Lifetimes ago, on a different planet.

in another universe, we were princesses,

frenetic flock of hummingbirds

dress-up clothes scattered outside of a Rubbermaid tub beside the backyard trampoline…hummingbirds

we always kept a bath towel

tied around Jake’s neck, so he could

be the hero

and so he would not cry, because only princesses may cry in this game.

Just kidding, Jake.

As long as you kept the kid flush in Lay’s potato chips

he was usually pretty cool.

We used to fling our clothes off wildly and become Cinderella,

like a good little heroine, but with a nasty Madonna-like exhibitionist streak.

Right. So

I will try to write this and not cry

You know, since I’m sitting here in the corner of a depressing Starbucks

…and have I mentioned?

35 is kind of bullshit knowing that these memories exist on another plane,

flying planes,

pink bicycle flight down Betty to Donald Street

white basket with streamers, full of baseball glove, melted M&Ms,

handfuls of squashed magnolia carpel

we’d launch them, tiny red beans exploding into the Jasmine-scented air

Target:

whoever we didn’t want to play with that day

streams of consciousness flow back

to that super disgusting drainage pond that we thought

was just a magical little paradise

covered in a permanent layer of chartreuse foam.

We rode side by side, arms outstretched and screamed so loud the neighbors came outside

the weird feeling when you take your eyes off the road and look up at the cloudsLookin Up

is a handmade rollercoaster.

It’s like how an orgasm feels right before it pulls you under and drowns you,

Hey…I should feel weird about that. Right?

You fell over, I’m pretty sure.

Wisteria melted down the trees by that lonely horse ring.

Path in the woods past it

umbrella of oak crying spanish moss on our heads.

Undeveloped land dotted with

big, weirdly aqua-blue pools we swam in and then said

I just fell in a puddle, mom.

Of all postal workers I’ve ever known, your dad was my favorite.

Because he listened to Guns N’ Roses while he put letters in mailboxes.

We talked one day about emergencies probably because

that weird fire education smokehouse was at South Conway Elementary.

Fire safety and McGruff Crime Dog informed

the greatest fears of our elementary minds

and you asked “Where do we go?”

(cause there were a lot of house fires that year in South Conway)

and I said “Well that’s easy.”

In my head, I could see it going so well!

House up in flames, I would grab Jake and his potato chips

that chair from my grandfather’s house, perfect for breaking a window.

And we’d all meet at the pink pampas grass that we used to pluck pieces of

and hit each other with

like whips

Oh my God, why were we so fucked up?

Anyways…

Remember that rattlesnake my mom killed?

Shovel right under the head WHACK!

God, what a badass.

I wanted to be like that when I got to the pampas grass with Salt-and-Crumbs

I mean…

Jake. And maybe William, since he was always there.

Why must little brothers always be included?

Anyways…

If you see William, you guys should really grab a drink or something.

I’m still not clear on why you both moved so far away.

Nobody asked for my opinion on it. Or Salt-and-Crumbs.

I guess what I’m saying is I wish adult life was as good

as it was to be covered in dirt

creating tents out of beach towels and upside down lawn chairs

cooking leaves in a bucket strung over the tree by the tire swing.

I can’t do a pull-up without thinking about how we dangled from that one limb.

I can’t do many pull-ups.

You know what was my favorite thing, though?

Years later at a Korn concert when someone said

“Oh shit, is that Jonica?”

And you had yanked your shirt off on some guy’s shoulders

Jonathan Davis was screaming about something into the mic

cause anger used to feel very much like love

And I thought “Where is the dress up trunk?”

 

One day, when this entire world burns, we’ll meet.

At the pink pampas grass.

Bring your bike.