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What Kids are Supposed to Do

Dona Lord

Kids shouldn’t need to carry coffins. 

Their shoulders shouldn’t be weighed 

down by such a heavy thing, heavy 

like the weight 

in my chest and how it brought   

me to my knees when I got the call. 


Kids shouldn’t have to smell the fluorescent   

hospital smells, and shrink 

as the walls press in. 

They shouldn’t know the sounds 

of weeping, the kind 

that shakes 

the building and takes hold of men  

like my father, his uncle, who never cries. 


It was the kind of weeping I knew  

when I saw him breathing,  

but so far 


And we all knew it together, 

cousins, friends, a brother, and sisters 

as we crumbled into pile on the floor and listened 

to the mechanical sounds of what remained of his life. 


I still see him, scaling church rafters  

to show off, chasing cars  

from Chick-fil-A Tifton into the highway 

to give someone a missing fruit cup  

like a friendly neighborhood Superman- 

still see him with his cape,  

flying off sofas, living  

in a world where he was the hero, 


and this must be the greatest prank he’d ever played- 

because that’s what kids do. 

They mess around and tussle and argue and craft insults 

so creative, never deeper 

than just a joke and laugh 

like clowns because nothing 

has ever had to be that serious. 


He was never that serious, 

with his sarcastic soft smiling,  

nonchalance, on the other end of my phone  

last July, downplaying a copperhead  

bite. He told me not to tell his mama-  

didn’t want her to worry. 

And if he could, I’m sure he’d laugh 

about beating us to heaven, 

because to him, even death 

wasn’t that deep-  

it just meant flying away. 


We were both April babies. 

My mother held me at nine days old, in a hospital awaiting 

his birth and I don’t remember that day, 

but I’ll never forget these days, waiting 

on a clammy floor, watching a mama 

hold the hand of her firstborn boy  

every breath breaking 

into sobs 

because this time 

we waited for death. 


And the air was 

suffocating, so we escaped into Tallahassee’s 

steaming yellow sky, fishing poles 

over tired shoulders, trespassing 

deep into the cursed hospital grounds, climbing 

fences to get to ponds like ones 

he would’ve loved to fish in, pretending 

we could ever feel young again, 

and grasping for a piece of him, 

in a world turned 

upside down, to do 

what kids 

are supposed to do. 

Fall 2023

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