This is going to be a sad one, so brace yourself with plenty of tissues. I remember first discovering this poem, listening to the writer recite it himself at a poetry slam. By the end of the poem, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. The journey that he takes us on is unbelievably heartbreaking and delivered in such a clever format. He counts down from his current age, 21, to when his mother was pregnant with him, recalling all the major events in his life, most of them revolving around his father. This is one of those poems that left me thinking about it for days, months and even years later. Hopefully, it will have the same effect on you.
21 by Patrick Roche
“21. My father is run over by a car.
He is passed out in the road with a blood alcohol content 4 times the legal limit.
I do not cry.
Four months later,
The nurses lose his pulse, and I wonder whose life flashed before his eyes.
Rewinding VHS tapes
Old home videos
19. I haven’t brought a friend home in four years.
18. My mother sips the word “divorce”.
Her mouth curls at the taste like it burns going down.
17. I start doing homework at Starbucks.
I have more meaningful conversations with the barista
Than with my family
16. I wait for Christmas Eve.
My brother and I usually exchange gifts to one another early
This year, he and my father exchange blows.
My mother doesn’t go to mass.
15. I come up with the theory that my father started drinking again
Because maybe he found out I’m gay.
Like if he could make everything else blurry,
Maybe somehow I’d look straight.
15. My mother cleans up his vomit in the middle of the night
And cooks breakfast in the morning like she hasn’t lost her appetite.
15. I blame myself.
15. My brother blames everyone else.
15. My mother blames the dog.
15. Super Bowl Sunday
My father bursts through the door like an avalanche
Picking up speed and debris as he falls
Banisters, coffee tables, picture frames
I find his AA chip on the kitchen counter.
14. My father’s been sober for 10,
Maybe 11, years?
I just know
We don’t even think about it anymore.
11. Mom tells me Daddy’s “meetings” are for AA.
She asks if I know what that means.
I nod anyway.
10. My parents never drink wine at family gatherings.
All my other aunts and uncles do.
I get distracted by the TV and forget to ask why.
6. I want to be Spider-Man.
Or my dad.
They’re kinda the same.
3. I have a nightmare
The recurring one about Ursula from The Little Mermaid
So I get up
I waddle toward Mommy and Daddy’s room,
Blankie in hand,
Daddy’s standing in his underwear
Silhouetted by refrigerator light.
He raises a bottle
To his lips.
0. When my mother was pregnant with me,
I wonder if she hoped,
As so many mothers do,
That her baby boy would grow up to be