The Air in My Lungs

It was long after my bedtime when she received the call
Though I had a phone in my room,
I didn't pick it up.
I knew.
I felt it.

The next morning I didn't say anything
As I walked out the door
And we both pretended it was a normal day
I went to school
And I forgot for a moment
I pretended.

I'll never forget how angry I was
When my mom sat us kids down
To tell us that our only grandfather 
Had exhaled his last breath
And that instead of school,
Tomorrow we would be shopping
For a funeral outfit

I remember thinking it was strange
That our aunt took us to Wet Seal
That we would be wearing dresses
That we normally would wear to church
That they were colorful
Bright
And I felt numb
I felt black

I remember feeling the sadness around me
Trying to process what everyone else was feeling
I couldn't cry like they could
I was too empty

I went out to the van with my sister
And our childhood best friend
And while everyone was inside weeping, 
I took my first hit of a cigarette
I was 11
I remembered thinking I would never smoke again

And then 6th grade came
A new school year
And it occurred to me
That he wouldn't pick me up from school
And take me for ice cream
And help with my math homework
Or let me win at Monopoly any more
And I couldn't smile

I remember we had an exercise in Language Arts
To write a poem
About what we were feeling
There was a structured format
And it didn't make me feel better
But it made me feel

I had a small pink spiral notebook
With the word "Angel" on it
Because I collected angels
That was my first poem book

Those pages helped me
Through the loss of a loved one,
Puberty
First boyfriends
Fights with my best friend
My first time
The breakup that followed
Indecision about life

And each time I turned a page in that book
I turned one in life
I learned how to express what I was feeling
How to find just the right word to describe what I meant
My life values became clear to me
I understood what I wanted
What I dreamed
What I hoped for

Through all this writing
In between classes
During lectures
In my free time
During study hours at home
I became a proficient writer

I learned to draft an essay with ease
And I wasn't scared of what people thought
I was able to be honest and heartfelt
Because that's what poetry is
Writing what you know
Writing what you feel
And learning and growing

And the best part is
Though you never know what you will end up with
You will always have that sigh at the end
Poetry lets you breathe
And if you can breathe, 
You can get through it

This poem is about: 
Me
My family

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