I’m going to let you in on a little secret and, after I do, give you a bit of advice.
The poem I wrote for your dead sister-in-law's funeral, you remember the one, was nothing more than an adulterated Dr. Seuss rhyme.
Yes. It’s true. I plagiarized. But what did you expect? I mean, 20 years ago, you barged in here, wielding a box of dollar store Kleenex, demanding, since I was a writer, I write a poem.
I remember looking at you, dumbfounded. “But I’ve never written a poem.”
One of you ticked your head back and forth, “You write for the Chicago Tribune, don’t you?”
And I started laughing because, here I was, a white chick living next door to you -- a family of Puerto Ricans who came to my daughter’s baptism and brought us killer beans and rice – being asked to write a poem to commemorate their dead sister-in-law. You just didn’t understand. All I had to say was, Oh, but I’m not a poet.
Surely this would settle it.
You would nod and we’d all have a good chuckle as you walked out the door to find some other sucker. So I said, “Gosh, I’m sorry. I’m not a poet.”
There was a long pause during which one of you, the one I’d never seen before, but one who, I noticed, had very large, meaty hands, cracked her knuckles and set her jaw, “It jus’ has to rhyme an’ shit.”
Remember that? Remember when she said that? I do. Remember how I ran into the other room to snag my journal?
It jus’ has to rhyme an’ shit.
“So,” I began, “…what is…what was her name?”
“How old was she?”
And this was when the four of you pressed those tissues to your eyes, “She would have been 50.”
Gnashing of teeth and quiet sobbing.
“And what did she like? Did she have hobbies?”
Remember what one of you said? I do.
You said, “She liked to fart.”
My pen hovered above the paper as I debated whether or not to write this down.
“Oh, damn,” another sister said, “she luuuuuhahaha-ved to fart!”
I wrote, Likes to fart. Scratched out the ‘s’ and added a ‘d.’
“And burp. Remember how she could burp?!”
You all started laughing.
I tried to change the subject, “Did she have a family?”
“Oh, yeah. A son. He’s in jail. They were selling weed an' he got caught.”
“Who was selling weed?”
“Baby and her son.”
“So they were drug dealers? Baby and her son were drug dealers?”
I wrote, Drug dealer.
“Remember how she used to eat ribs?” The sister with the meaty hands did this disturbing pantomime of Baby stuffing ribs into her mouth.
“Okay, I said, cutting her off, “I think I have enough to go on here.”
None of you moved. You just sat like Russian matryoshka dolls staring at me.
“Jus’ write it now,” the meaty-handed sister said.
“Oh. I… Give me a little time.”
“How much time?”
I stood and opened the door, “Well, I have to get to work.”
I sat at my computer and couldn’t think of a thing to write. What rhymes with fart? With burp? With, Baby was a drug dealer?
Green Eggs and Ham laid open where my one-year-old daughter, now napping, had left it.
So here’s what I came up with:
Baby did like ribs.
Baby did like to fart.
Baby did like to burp and go to Kmart.
Baby liked her weed.
Baby sold a lot.
Baby got her son…
But why am I repeating it? You remember the heart-wrenching eulogy I wrote. The one you read at her funeral.
You do remember, don’t you?
Because I do. I remember.
And here’s my piece of advice now that you’ve moved back to Puerto Rico: never let me write a poem for your dead relative and, if you do, familiarize yourself with Dr. Seuss’s Oh The Places You’ll Go!
Because, like I said, I'm not a poet. And that’ll be my next inspiration.
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