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If the day you died could breathe


Originally published March 14, 2019

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?”


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.

Published inPoetry

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