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Just Words

By , Many, LA
I wrote my first poem when I was twelve. It went like this:

Lily, Lily, in the garden,
Sway with the wind, against the breeze;
Embrace the sun and brave the freeze;
Lily, Lily, in the garden.

I thought it was good, maybe just because it rhymed. I don’t know why I wrote about flowers. I wouldn’t know a lily from a stinkweed.

I showed it to my dad and he said:
“It’s competent.”

I figured he was being critical because he was a writer. I showed it to my friend, Luke, and he said:
“Why did you write about flowers?”
“I don’t know.”
“It rhymes.”
“I know.”

I always figured I would be a writer, since my dad was. I think he figured I would be, too. I not sure he liked poetry very much- he was a journalist. He started working for a local paper when I was a baby, and by the time I had written my first poem, he was doing stories for Time. I was proud of him. So was my mom.

I showed her my poem that night when we visited her. She had just had a lump removed from her breast and had to be in the Hospital for three days. This was the second.

She said:
“Why did you write about flowers?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s beautiful.”
“Thank you.”
“I am proud of you.”
“Thank you.”
“So is your dad, I bet.”
“I hope so.”

She kept it on the table by her bed.

Luke went with me to visit her, because I hated hospitals so much. He waited outside and did crosswords while I talked to her. It was nice of him, since he hated hospitals too.
~
When we got home, my dad sat at his computer to write. Luke and I played scrabble in my room. We could hear the click-clack of my dad’s keyboard.

“Did you write any more poems?”
“Just the one I showed you. It wasn’t that great.”
“I liked it.”
“You didn’t say so.”
“I should have.”
“Thank you. Tom is a pronoun, by the way.”
“I mean the drum. It’s only five points anyway.”
~
My mom came home the next night. She hugged me gently and smelled sterile, like the hospital. I hoped she would smell normal again soon. She asked if I had written anymore poems. I said no, but I will.
~
The next one went like this:
I hold you tight and breathe you in,
I fill with peppermint and honey,
Soap, shampoo, and your perfume,
The metallic scent of money.

My mom read it aloud and then hung it on the fridge. She said again:
“I’m proud of you.”

My dad saw it and said:
“Did you write that?”
“Yes.”
“It’s good.”
“Thank you.”
“Poems don’t always have to rhyme.”
“I know.”
“Is it about a girl?”
“It’s about mom.”
“She’s proud of you.”
“She told me.”

The paper came that day and I flipped through it to find everything my dad had written. His stories were always good and really long. I highlighted my favorite lines in each one.

One went like this:
Mr. Evans glances out of the dusty old window, the afternoon sun casting shadows into his weather-worn face, highlighting the jagged scar running from his furrowed brow to the tip of his nose.

I sounded a lot like poetry that didn’t rhyme.
~

Luke and I rode the bus to his house after school on Monday. I read a book and he doodled on his homework. He showed me what he had drawn. It was a shark with braces.

It was too hot to play basketball that afternoon, so we stayed in and sat on the floor and watched TV and ate potato chips.

“Is your mom okay?”
“Yes. She’s a little sore, but she’s fine.”
“Did you write any more poems?”
“Yes, I wrote one for her.”
“You should write one for me.”
~
I tried that night when I got home, but I didn’t know what to write. I asked my dad. He said:
“I don’t know much about poetry.”
“You don’t have to. But you see special things about people, that’s why you’re such a good writer.”
He still didn’t know.

I asked my mom and she said:
“What do you like about Luke?”

I thought about it. I like how he played scrabble with me, and drew funny pictures, and I liked how he did things he hated so that I didn’t have to do them alone. I liked how he always asked me about my interests, even if they weren’t shared. I liked how his teeth were crooked and his hair curled up when it was humid. I liked that he was my friend even though I wrote about things like flowers.

“I don’t really know. Everything, I guess.”
~
It took me three days to write. It went like this:
Through rain and clouds and stormy seas
You are always there, unequivocally
I never doubt, I never think
I trust, I trust, I trust

You have my back, my problems are yours
You never waver, never stutter
A rock, a shelter, a shoulder
I trust, I trust, I trust.

He said:
“It doesn’t rhyme”
“I know.”
“I like it a lot.”
“Thank you.”
“What does ‘unequivocally’ mean?”
“I means clear and unambiguous.”
“Oh.”

He hung it up on his bulletin board, next to a map of Egypt. We decided in second grade that we were going to visit Egypt one day. We were going to ride camels through the desert and see Cairo and the pyramids and the Sphinx.
~
My thirteenth birthday was a month later, in October. I had written twenty-four poems by them. Most were not good at all. Some were okay. One I liked a lot.
~
My mom got sick again a few months later. She had an MRI that said she had cancer in her breasts again, and also in her pancreas.

My mom and dad cried. I didn’t. I asked if she was going to live. She said:
“For now.”
~
Luke called the next day, but I didn’t answer. He had a girlfriend now, and we fought about it. Her name was Rebecca. I don’t think he liked her that much, but everyone had a girlfriend, so he had one too. He drew pictures for her. He drew a t-rex with a moustache and a top hat and a monocle, but she didn’t think it was funny. I thought about getting a girlfriend too. Most of them had boyfriends already. I didn’t really like the rest of them.
~
I eavesdropped on my parents one night when they thought I was asleep. They were sitting on the couch. My mom’s head was sitting on dad’s shoulder and he was stroking her hair. I think they were crying, but I could only see the back of them. She had two months. I cried then.
~
I didn’t write another poem for a while. I finally went to Luke’s house again. I was sick of not seeing him. We sat on the edge of his swimming pool with our jeans rolled up and our feet in the water. The sunlight beat down on our backs and the water distorted our feet and made them look pallid. His were a little bigger. He was getting taller than me.

He said:
“I’m sorry about your mom.”
“It’s okay.”
“Have you been writing?”
“No.”
“How come?”
“I just haven’t.”

He hesitated a moment and then placed his arm around my hunched back and pulled my in slightly. I let my head rest on his shoulder for just a moment. He smelled like soap and pencil shavings.
~
My mother was in pain. She wouldn’t say anything, but I could tell. She couldn’t do much. She just sat on her bed. I sat with her sometimes. I would write her poems and read them to her.

One night, she said:
“Thank you for writing for me.”

I felt a lump rise in my throat. I looked down at my hands.
“They’re just words. It’s not enough.”
“They aren’t just words. It’s quite enough.”

I didn’t like looking at her face. It was pale and gaunt. Full of shadows. It didn’t look like my mother. I kept looking at my hands.

The pain kept getting worse, each day. I couldn’t do anything.

I came home from school one day to a locked door. I knocked but there was no answer. I rang the doorbell. Nothing.

I shimmied open my bedroom window. I always kept it unlocked. The house was cool and quiet. All I could hear was the faint sound of water running.

I said:
“Mom?”
No answer.

I knocked on the bathroom door. The carpet in front of it was damp. I turned the handle and let myself in. Every square inch of the porcelain tile was wet. The tub was running, overflowing with water. My mother was slumped over the edge, her wrists resting in the murky, red bath.

I said:
“Mom?”
No answer.
~
She had left a note on my bed. I still haven’t read it. I don’t know that I ever will. I’m not mad at her. I’m just afraid that reading it will make all of this real. I have written 213 poems since then. Most of them are short. A lot of them are about her. A few are not very good. I like most of them.

I showed one to my dad and he said:
“I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you”
“She would be too.”
“I know.”





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