“The wheel of what-if starts turning and never stops.” – Mary Jo Bang, Elegy
If I had one chance
to run your life in reverse;
how far back would I need to go
to change the ending?
I’d have to start the night you died:
You pull that last needle from your arm,
untie that last tourniquet,
stand up from the bathroom floor,
stuff the works back into your pocket,
walk backward out of that Best Western,
put your helmet back on, begin your bike ride
backward to the home you’d made at Grandma’s,
stopping to return the heroin and meth to your dealer,
who gives back your money, then continuing
to where your daughter Maggie waits,
crying until you take her into your arms.
That wouldn’t be far enough to save you, though
I’d need to keep rewinding three more years
to the night you tried crack, first drug
to fishhook you and yank down hard:
You put the loaded pipe and lighter down,
the nervous smile dies on your face
as you walk purposefully, backward, out
of that smoky room, leaving behind that man
holding out that pipe you’ll never hit.
You make it backwards home, strip,
slide back into your lonely bed at midnight,
roll over and let yourself fall back asleep.
But to make your mind change that night,
I’d have to go back farther, early enough
to undo whatever made you think
you were smart enough to outsmart addiction,
yet not worthy of a good life, filled with love.
Where would I begin?
Lanette Sweeney's debut poetry collection, What I Should Have Said: A Poetry Memoir About Losing A Child to Addiction, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Lanette has been a waitress, reporter, editor, fund-raiser, and teacher of English and Women's Studies; she is now a full-time writer thanks to her wife's support. Her work has or will soon be in Women: Images & Reality, Foliate Oak Review, Rattle, Silkworm, Amethyst Review, Please See Me, and Gyroscope Review. Learn more: https://www.lanettesweeney.com