Wednesday, June 17, 2015


For Last Poet Standing round 2
February 2015

Keep the promises you make yourself,
Because sometimes they’re the only ones
You can trust.
By twelve years old, I was pretty sure promises
Weren’t worth the air the words took.
“I promise things will get better,” they said.
“I promise I’ll always be there.”
But drifting, separate schools, work--
The promises were only air, and you can’t trust air.
So I promised myself, age twelve, to keep breathing anyway.
Some promises are too hard to keep alone,
I was failing, falling, burning.
And then I met him.
I sat down on the bench
Because he was reading a book,
After all the betrayal of flesh and blood and air,
Ink was one thing I could trust.
So we sat and talked and
I had a friend, again.
I built up my trust, still wary of words just spoken,
Careful of my back facing anyone but him,
The only one I could trust to be there
When I huddled in a high school library corner,
White-hot mania pressing into my eyes
Or the numbing void of depression filling my guts with lead.
He’d hold me, and I’d say, “I’m sorry.”
A shaking head, a hand on my arm
“I’m here, I’m here. I Promise.”
16 is too young for declaring eternal love,
And I didn’t want to ruin what we had, whatever it was, but
I’d never felt this way about anyone before.
As cliché as it sounds, it was true then.
Is true still,
And I’d promised myself I’d never let a chance at happiness
Slide through my fingers.
Then I got the email, fitting that it come in ink not worthless air:
“hey, anna, do you want to go to that mormon prom thing? with me?”
And fingers trembling, I typed back, yes.
There were more promises then, to myself, to him,
To others. I learned to trust the air again, the spoken things,
They all credited therapy, I credited the one who
Held me and listened.
He told me I didn’t have to,
 But I promised I’d wait for him,
And I did, faithful letters every week.
When he came home, we watched our movie. Up.
The one we watched the day I first kissed him
And he said, “I can see us like that,”
And crossed his heart.
Take it slow, we said.
I was 21 and the world was so much brighter than it had been
When I promised myself I’d live,
Even in the rain.
We sat on the porch swing in the gardens,
Leaning against each other and
Speaking about forever.
“Will you marry me?”
He asked it when I was laughing and looking away
So I didn’t see my grandmother’s ring at first
But there it was.
He promised, I promised,
The ring didn’t even need to be resized
And every time I was sick or sad I touched it
Remembered I was loved.
I sat down in December to write a poem to my 12 year old self,
Maybe the promises made to me were true, it does get better.
I was 21, 11 months and 4 days,
And checking my email while Christmas shopping.
The subject line was, Love you.
He signed off with, I hope we can still be friends.
10 years of friendship and I didn’t even get a phone call to shatter my heart
Like a glass ornament falling from a tree.
I had always promised myself I would not fall to pieces over a boy,
Like some soap opera character too weak to stand.
All the crossed hearts and promises to be there
To be there
To be there
Not worth the air they took.
Keep the promises you make to yourself
Because sometimes they are the only ones you can cling to.
I am 22 and my left hand still feels naked,
But I promised myself, keep breathing anyway.

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