If We Had Known You Were, We Would Have Stayed Longer

by | December 2020 A (Day 2)

Since you died I’ve been writing to your son. In my head mostly, while running climbing lathering the dishes you pop up and I think well all I can do is write to him because he’s alive and you aren’t and maybe he’d want what I know of you even though his father might not want him to read have ponder and I’m not messing with that bond never did so the letters fill my pigeonholes—no nests no eggs. 

Remember when he got the eye infection non-stop squirming kicking under the sheet eye-wax enough for a candle we put the sea salt in warm water dipped dabbed eye-dropped for three nights days every hour. Remember when we lost him at the book fair found him behind the tent dissembling the generator greasy fingers all intact thank god. Remember him diving off the schooner snorkel mask in hand smile a sail air-bound before the prop stopped rotating the waves had eaten him I handed you my phone wallet keys and followed his arc flow dive. 

Maybe when he’s eighteen or twenty-eight or I’m dead or dying he’ll get the letters hopefully he’ll speak English by then at least able to read my handwriting even know who I was and what we were and how I would have taken you both to Albuquerque to be three against the world as he is now with the step-mother who we once met and liked but nothing compared to you if the father wasn’t such a good dad guy drummer dude I’ve offered what I could but understand it’s complicated for such a tike so I’ll run climb lather compose these little distant letters that one day might explain just how perfect we three were for certain days of the week for several years as he grew bigger outside you as that tumor grew bigger inside you I’m divided on the not knowing part because we all thought we had time time time and used drank loved kissed ate laughed each day as the last took you so fast so fast so fast but I would have never left you or his side to avoid ever having to teach a third conditional example ever again.    

9 Comments

  1. Bud Smith

    Oh my god, this took my breath away. What a stunning piece of writing. The layers to this are incredible. A person ‘sending’ a letter or at least reaching out in thought, maybe, to a woman who has died about letters that he is sending to a boy, her son, who may or may not be able to ever read these letters (just like the mother/woman may never hear this man’s thoughts/wishes in the afterlife). And the parallel between the baby growing inside of her the same time the tumor is growing — damn, you really know what you’re doing. The ending just killed me: “I’ll run climb lather compose these little distant letters that one day might explain just how perfect we three were for certain days of the week for several years as he grew bigger outside you as that tumor grew bigger inside you I’m divided on the not knowing part because we all thought we had time time time and used drank loved kissed ate laughed each day as the last took you so fast so fast so fast but I would have never left you or his side to avoid ever having to teach a third conditional example ever again”

    I think this one is ready to send around to journals and sites if you are interested in publishing it. Just feels like a bullet ready to go

  2. Janelle Greco

    David, I really loved this. I love the use of the verbs and adjectives mashed together: “I’ll run climb lather compose”, “good dad guy drummer dude.” I imagine that it’s tough to pull that off, but you’ve done so with grace. The stream-of-consciousness is also really working for you here. It makes me want to read more from you. Makes me want to hear more of this narrator’s voice. And it obviously works well as a mental letter to someone who’s passed. I agree with Bud that this seems ready to me. I really don’t have much in terms of critique. I feel all the love and loss and sadness and hope in this piece all at once and it hits me in the most beautiful way possible. Thank you for sharing this piece.

  3. Amy Barnes

    This has such lyricism infused into the words, an elegy, honoring memories. Within the words and phrases, the grief and things maybe left unspoken are said but also softened and sharpened all at once. Using the unconventional phrases and connected words feels like a perfect way to express that grief — like someone who is remembering but still stumbling to say the words out loud or express what they are feeling, regretting.

    running climbing lathering the dishes
    he’s alive and you aren’t and maybe he’d want
    non-stop squirming kicking
    sheet eye-wax enough for a candle
    dipped dabbed eye dropped
    generator greasy fingers all intact thank god
    handed you my phone wallet keys
    good day drummer dude
    he grew bigger outside you as that tumor grew bigger inside you
    drank loved kissed ate laughed

    That last line:

    I would have never left you or his side to avoid ever having to teach a third conditional example ever again.

    While I’m assuming it refers to being a teacher, there is an emotional connection to the play on words of unconditional love/third conditional part of speech. Applying the lens of teaching a language back to the story “explains” the word usages in a way. There are other references to language and speech throughout that the ending line ties back together. But even without that, we get that finding the words to express grief can be difficult. I am torn on wanting to know who the narrator is addressing. Is it a spouse? A friend? Is the child their son? While it works in its more vague sense, it might add another layer here to give us a broader hint of who this is written to.

  4. Kevin Sterne

    this is incredible. The tricks you’re pulling off at the prose level—i’ve never read something like this. The successive verbs that act as transitions to a new thought in the middle of a sentence. this last paragraph is just stunning. The whole piece sings. So much emotion, such life and feeling. I don’t feel i can offer any suggestions for revision. you know what you’re doing. this deserves a good home

  5. Anna V

    These images are so strong and poetic and I really love the stream of consciousness. I got lost in this piece. I read it aloud to myself and I know it would really shine being read in front of a crowd if crowds exist in our future. My only suggestion is to echo what Amy said — hinting more at who this narrator is talking to and the nature of their relationship could give the sadness and loss even more depth for the reader.

  6. Samantha Mitchell

    David,
    Dang! This is incredibly beautiful and left me breathless. I think the form is doing so much work, a demonstration of the narrator’s grief, like he can’t get the words out fast enough – or, if he pauses for too long, the words will go away and the feelings behind them will dissolve into intangibles again. But also, I think the form is working on another level… I imagine myself as the son, reading the narrator’s letters in one, mismatched, rambling jumble. He’s found the letters, but he hasn’t found them all and he can’t decipher every word. So we get the gist of the message, which is, at the end, all we need.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. K Chiucarello

    David, I love that you chose this prompt. It feels very closely connected.

    Here’s a few passages/fragments/sentences I was drawn to: “while running climbing lathering the dishes you pop up and I think well all I can do is write to him because he’s alive and you aren’t and maybe he’d want what I know of you even though his father might not want him to read have ponder and I’m not messing with that bond never did so the letters fill my pigeonholes—no nests no eggs.” “sea salt in warm water dipped dabbed eye” “dissembling the generator greasy fingers all intact thank god” “to be three against the world”

    What I love the most about this piece is its structure (or lack there of). I’m truly such a sucker for these types of pieces that really make you *work to grasp at the wholeness. I honestly don’t have any feedback for this one. I think it’s perfect as is. One other thing I just want to highlight is that the sentimentality here feels fun and light-hearted and messy, a real glimpse at personhood rather than romanticizing it. I’m grateful for that and I feel it’s very hard to pull off. Again, so beautiful!

  8. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    David, This is a bit of fine, and not unexpected from you. I love the way the lack of punctuation enforces the piling of memories that spill out over pain and loss, as well the anticipation of the son who might read the letters-not-sent in some future time, in some moment when the son might speak English, by then. It all works, too, because the memories are so rich. I might have struggled with the who-is-the-you aspect of this but I did the unforgivable, thought a little about what I know of your travels, filled it in and it fit. Perhaps for others, a hint of what language the son initially, presumably from his mother, speaks?

    So, I repeat, I love the stream of consciousness, your lathering of dishes, and pondering and all of it. No suggestions but the above. Bravo.

  9. Neil Clark

    Wow, blown away by this.

    Some of my favourite lines are – “Remember him diving off the schooner snorkel mask in hand smile a sail air-bound before the prop stopped rotating the waves had eaten him I handed you my phone wallet keys and followed his arc flow dive.” and “I’ll run climb lather compose these little distant letters that one day might explain just how perfect we three were for certain days of the week”

    And the ache of this – “he grew bigger outside you as that tumor grew bigger inside you”. Just wow.

    I have no critiques of this, because it is so great and because it’s so different to anything I could ever try to write. Enjoyed the breathless brilliance of it immensely, David.

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