Written April 12, 2011


If I were a poem, I'd be the kind to break your heart.

I wouldn't mean to, surely you know that.

I'd be full of suspense, the terror that only happens in real life,

And you'd read quickly,

Trying to outrun the fear—

.

But at the last period, it's still there,

Waiting. Waiting like I waited.

.

Your childhood room,

The backyard where your dog played,

The window where the cat sat and watched,

The TV that didn't get enough channels,

The VCR that became a DVD player,

The bookshelf with books you never read, never wanted to read,

The crayon-stained books your parents read to you,

The school papers and report cards and playground you mapped out.

.

Waiting. Waiting like I waited.

Waiting like I'm still waiting,

There, at the last period.

Exclamation point. Question mark.

Maybe a dash or two.

.

You were small, once, in overalls and bright shoes.

You smiled and laughed and danced, spun around till you fell.

.

I wouldn't mean to break your heart,

If I were a poem.

You know that, don't you?

.

Santa Claus met the Tooth Fairy once.

The Easter Bunny waited at the end of the path.

They're all three buried in the garden,

But shh—that's a secret.

Don't tell. I shouldn't have told you.

.

I only ever wanted to be great,

And I used to dream about changing the world.

For the better, of course, that goes without saying.

I wanted what every kid wants—

To make a difference, to be remembered.

Will you remember me?

.

Your childhood home,

The tree you tried to climb a million times,

The yard that was your kingdom,

The driveway that saw all your scraps,

The dog and the cat you loved and buried,

Walls you scribbled on and punched,

Hallways you conquered and the bathroom you flooded—

I'm written on the air there. All around the kid you used to be.

.

I'd break your heart, if I were a poem.

I'd be your first love and last goodbye,

The dream you wanted that never came true.

I'd be your broken arm and concussion,

Your worst grades and that time you got fired,

Your cheating lover and the best friend that died on the way to prom.

If I were a poem, I'd be your mama's grave and your father's stroke,

Your daughter's birthing shriek and your wife's sobs after the miscarriage.

I'd be your daughter's childhood home,

The cat and dog that saw her grow,

The books she read and that you read to her.

(Do you know me now?)

.

I'm waiting.

Exclamation point. Question mark.

A dash or two.

Period.

I'm waiting.

.

You read quickly, skipping words here and there.

You read quickly, hands clenched around the page.

You read quickly, determined, wondering

is it over yet?

No, child. Not quite yet.

You don't want it to be.

You know what comes next.

.

A riddle:

What's over the rainbow, down the hill, through the snow?

An answer:

The end of the adventure.

.

Santa Claus brought the Tooth Fairy a bundle of toys.

The Easter Bunny shared a basket of chocolates

And the Tooth Fairy counted out her dough.

A rose bush grows over their bones.

(We don't know that, though.)

.

If I were a poem, I'd be the kind to break your heart.

You'd read me quickly, flying through the syllables,

In your hurry, skipping entire words.

You want to find the end of the rainbow,

Sliding down the hill, forcing your way through the snow.

.

(This is your life. Your childhood, all the way to your last breath.

This is your life. Don't go so fast.)

.

I was there through it all; your life, writ in my verses.

Are you sure you want to read the final one?

.

Yes!

.

Well then.

This is how it goes.

.

You're waiting. Waiting at the end.

Your wife, alone in a hospital room.

Your daughter, crying at home, her lover holding her tight.

And you. You're sitting in a car.

.

If I were a poem…

You wouldn't read me.

You've never liked poetry.

But I'm sitting beside you, listening to your pulse.

It's slowing down, you know.

Little boy, once in overalls, chasing a dog around the yard.

Little boy. Is this your end?

.

Listen. Your mama's reading you a story.

An adventure, rogues and pirates

And a rainbow at the end.

It ends happily, of course.

Nothing else for her little prince.

.

Period.

Exclamation point. Question mark.

A dash or two.

Waiting for you.

.

If I were a poem, I'd be the kind to break your heart.

I'd hold you close, kiss your temple, soothe you.

But I'd walk away, after. I'd always walk away.

I'm not the staying kind, you know.

.

(I'm waiting for you.)

.

There's a rainbow in the garden,

And you're too old to chase it to the end.