The Heartbreaker Poem
by Bianca Phipps
One. Your father speaks of his youth with revelry; spills his life across the table like an overturned drink covering everything. Your mother, doesn’t speak. Any stories of her premarital life come from your father’s mouth. He speaks of how he tamed her, saved her from a life of reckless abandon; clipped her wings to keep her from flying too close to the sun, but Icarus would’ve just as soon drowned than burned, and the silence in your mother’s mouth is a salt water darkness. She does not speak up to defend herself.
Even now, years after their divorce your father’s voice can fill a room and your mother still makes space for it. When your mother teaches you not to be swallowed she is already sitting in the belly of the beast she once loved. You wonder if she has grown to love the darkness like she once loved the man.
Two. The day you learn the importance of emergency exits is the day your heartbeat stops sounding familiar. It is a stuttering tongue, a trembling hand. Your heart beats like closing doors, beats like your father’s fading footsteps, beats like every plea you will learn how to swallow; don’t go, don’t go, don’t go, don’t. Your father teaches you how to be the first one to walk away, leave before they realize you are not worth staying for.
Three. When your mother tells you not to be afraid of falling in love, you do not miss the way her hands shake, you wonder if they miss the handcuff weight of the ring that used to rest on that finger, wonder if you too will fall in love with a padlocked man. You begin to be wary of boys with birdcaged hands; they have mouths like oceans and your mother is still wringing sea water from her bones.
Four. You master the art of slipping away by starting small. Fix your body clock so you always wake up first, plot escape route like past time, force your heart to beat; just go, just go, just… Practice on the ones you love most, that way nothing can hurt you. You cannot break a mangled thing and you don’t know the last time your heart sounded like a heart. Five. He tells you you eat like a bird. You tell him your mother taught you well. He laughs and reaches for your hand, you smile and begin to slip through the cage of his fingers.
Six. When boys begin searching for hospital room hearts you warn them yours is a broken glass bottle. They don’t care, or they don’t hear you. They cut themselves on sharp tongues trying to make finger paintings with the blood on their hands, make it sound so beautiful you almost believe them.
Soon you know they will wake up with scars and blame you so you leave them a bandage in the dark and don’t look back. Leave, before they realize you are not worth scarring for.
Seven. You see every outstretched hand as a palm preparing to drown you, so you sink further underwater and ignore the burning in your chest. Run your fingers over every name that has left your mouth for the last time and tell your self you have done the right thing.