Remember when we would put oranges in our mouths and pretend they were
retainers, and when we would paste our faces white and pretend we were old
enough to shave? We were eager to experience the humiliations of puberty. We
felt a swelling to grow up. But you died young, and I lived old, and we both
missed what it was to have a body filled with the arcane symbols of adolescence.
Because this seems like a reunion between old friends (which, I supposed it is),
I'll say that I missed you. I'll also say thank you for teaching me that you
shouldn't love traffic the same way you love a woman. Through the windows that
we once thought were just broken doors, we watched an older woman spasm with
pain before falling to a broken hip, and that was the year we discovered it's better
to pretend that winter never came. I think it will be good for my heart (and for
yours too) to tell you that I heard you the day your grandfather died, and I
listened like a stethoscope through the scabbed wooden stairs as you wept like a
boy. After all these years, I still think about all the ways I could have helped but
did not. I am sorry for the guilt that braids my insides, but I'm more sorry for the
moment after the moment I heard you ascend the stairs: I hid so you wouldn't
know I was there. I want to say, for this I think very little of myself and I hang my
head so low that my shadow can't even see my long, sad lips. I wish I had held
your hand like a candlestick in a blackout; but turning time is harder than
chewing water. So instead, I coiled this memory (and others like it) around rocks
in the backyard in easy places where my children will be able find them.
Ali Coad is an Ohio-born poet currently working on an English degree with an emphasis in creative writing at The University of Georgia. She will be graduating in May 2011 and applying to MFA Poetry programs for 2012.