The First (An Original Poem)

Where the Sidewalk Ends

A poem about promising beginnings and predictable middles. All our choices are rational, yet our lives defy reason. Without further ado (when sharing, please credit my name and link this blog directly):

The First
by Irene Shih

In the beginning, it was obvious.

It was the idea everyone should’ve had and didn’t, and you – and you – the lucky and brilliant and complete original who thought of it first.

What the world needs is your kind of love, which is cleaner than the jaded efficiency of heartless adults, which is the type of fuel that creates the kind of gas that doesn’t deplete the ozone keeps the sun gentle preserves the parks we love the families that love but also saves us for the future. Which is bold enough to make promises brimming with alcohol but also – but also – with sincerity and a lot a lot of soul.

You just happened to think of it first.

So between smoked herb and a bunk bed, given the convenience of friendships just down the hall, subtracting the fumbling of eager bodies but carrying over the tenderness atop pillows, you pontificated that what the world needs is what you already have – what you so effortlessly enjoy, and must be made permanent.

So obvious, but you thought of it first.

And that was the plan, and when you presented it only one dickweed dissented but what does he know and you never liked him anyway and every generation has at least one bad apple but you can’t let that harsh your mellow. And everyone (except that dickweed) signed on the dotted line not in blood but in crayon, and everyone (except that dickweed) was so bright-eyed and old-soul and Man, how can the world go wrong when everyone (except that dickweed) agrees that what the world needs is your kind of love, which you have never had to defend, but you just know will always stay clean. (The wax of the crayon breaks unevenly across the page, but who cares.)

You were just the first who had it committed to paper.

It kind of ends, and you know something’s changed but No, nothing has changed. So what if the bunked twins become California kings, so what if the cheap beer becomes oaky wine, so what if the hallways lengthen across states and then continents, so what if the tenderness leaves your ten-thousand thread-count sheets and those matching, embroidered pillows? So what if your life starts to resemble a catalog, the one that never used to interest you but by which you now define the order of your mail the lining of your walls the integrity of your apartment the worth of your job the meaning of your high school reunion? What matters is that your body no longer fumbles and your lungs clear of smoke and fill with the chill of overworked air purifiers (you saw this in a  catalog and wondered how you ever lived without).

It’s not like you’re the first to choose comfort.

On purpose, you meet someone. On purpose, you fall in love and like all marriages it starts with a handshake it starts with a checklist it starts with two dates during which you exchange resumes and saliva. On purpose, you get a raise. On purpose, you buy a house. On purpose, you get a raise. On purpose – you conceive. By accident, you become a parent and like all relationships it starts with a handshake it starts with a checklist it starts with two decades during which you exchange friends for diapers friends for PTA meetings friends for an afternoon with you by yourself. The hours make sense but the years don’t. On purpose and by accident.

You’re not the first to lose touch, though.

You keep up with friends. (You do!) You want to know that they’re well (but not better than you). You keep up with that dickweed, too. You want to know that he’s doing something worthless, so you can pity him, or something heartless, so you can judge him. And it’s a late night, and you’re dabbing the sweat and wine from your lips and you’re toggling through page after page of people in your life that are not in your life, and you marvel at the efficiency of catalogs. And there it is, that paper from so long ago, marked with crayon, tagged with your name.

We are the first, it says. What the world needs is us.

(The wax of the crayon breaks unevenly across the page.)

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3 thoughts on “The First (An Original Poem)

  1. Hello Mrs. Shih I don’t think you remember me but my name is Savannah Schumacher. I am a past student of yours I love your poem it was verry inspiring. I used to look up to you even though I was taller than you back at imagine prep. You were my favorite teacher. You taught me more then any other teacher has ever taught me. I would like it if you would email me
    (schumachersavannah@yahoo.com)
    I am engaged now to Scott Robert Madsen. And I’m fraduateing high school next year. Thank you for always being my insperation.

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